David Cesarani. Journal of Israeli History. Volume 25, Issue 1. March 2006.
Since 1902 Britain has been engaged with Zionism. This prolonged involvement offers a case study of diachronically shifting patterns of anti-Zionism and their relationship with patterns of anti-Jewish discourse in a specific national context. This article begins with an account of political anti-Zionism in the 1920s, a model for all subsequent anti-Zionism and a benchmark of virulence. It surveys political discourse concerning Zionism during the conflict between Britain and the Zionist movement in 1930-31 and 1945-48, while Britain held the Mandate for Palestine. It then examines left-wing anti-Zionism in Britain in the 1960s and 1980s. It concludes with an analysis of rhetorical attacks on Israel, mainly from the left, since the second Intifada , and in the wake of 9/11.
Since Theodore Herzl advocated the Zionist cause to British parliamentarians in his testimony to the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in 1902, Britain has probably had a longer continuous engagement with Zionism than any other country in the world. The longevity of this entanglement provides a singular opportunity to study the diachronically shifting patterns of anti-Zionism and to assess their relationship with equally shifting patterns of anti-Jewish discourse.
Of course, anti-Zionism did not occur in a static matrix. When Britain assumed the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, the country was at the height of its imperial power and prestige. Within a decade Britain was in retreat from the Mandate, a symptom of imperial decline that culminated in the first stage of decolonization in 1947-48. During the 1950s Britain’s foreign policy in the Middle East was framed by its post-imperial aspirations and alliance with France. After Britain entered the European Economic Community in 1973 its foreign policy was increasingly meshed with that of Europe. Surprisingly, from the mid-1980s, it took a decidedly Atlanticist turn under the direction first of Margaret Thatcher and then of Tony Blair.
The internal social and political conditions changed as well. From the 1900s to the 1950s the Jews (after the Irish, who represent a special case) were the only significant immigrant ethnic-faith community in Britain. Since the 1960s the size of the Muslim population has grown exponentially. There are now about 300,000 Jews in Britain as against nearly two million Muslims. The last century, in which these demographic shifts occurred, also saw extensive political realignment. It began with the rise of the labor movement and ended with its waning. Midway, a New Left emerged, liberation movements took hold, and a politics of identity developed which empowered ethnic-faith communities as never before.
Nevertheless, the British case offers striking continuities of geopolitical interest in the Middle East and political culture at home. The persistence of a Jewish population and its presence in politics is another, important constant. These continuities may enable us to detect fixed features of anti-Zionism and aspects that are fluid. The persistence of a certain geopolitical framework may also assist the separation of policy and discourse based on perceived national interest from the expression of free-floating ideologies.
In order to discern such continuities and discontinuities, this article will briefly and schematically examine several key moments in the unfolding relationship between Britain, or the British, and Zionism. First, it looks at the extended political attack between 1922 and 1924 on the principle of assuming the Mandate for Palestine. In many respects this is a crucial template for all subsequent anti-Zionism and the benchmark against which it can be measured. Second, it examines political discourse concerning Zionism during the conflict between Britain and the Zionist movement in 1930-31 and 1945-48. Third, it examines the attitude of the New Left in Britain towards Zionism and Israel in the 1960s, and the Perdition affair of 1986-87—a case of left-wing anti-Zionism. Finally, it discusses attacks on Israel since the collapse of Soviet power, during the second Intifada, and in the wake of 9/11. Each of these periods could be the subject for a major research paper. Indeed, very little detailed research has been carried out on discourses about Jews and Zionism in Britain since the 1950s. What follows should be treated as a preliminary exploration of a complex subject and a research agenda rather than a definitive statement on the convergence or divergence of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist discourse.
It is necessary to add a word about the sources for this inquiry. Much of the material cited below comes from the press, including editorials, signed articles and special reports by named correspondents. This is a relatively convenient source to use, but unless the signed articles are by politicians or other public figures, they do not offer much insight into attitudes beyond Fleet Street. In certain cases it is possible to link newspaper proprietors to political parties and this is indicated where such coordination occurs. Articles by correspondents may explicitly represent wider viewpoints and can be assumed to replicate a certain, significant strand of thought. Otherwise, the opinions they present would not have any resonance and would not see print. However, it would be a mistake to assume that leading articles in the press represented the outlook of either the political classes or the populace at large. It is also as dangerous to assume that newspaper articles had a definite influence on opinion. There was a plethora of newspapers in the period covered here and only a few are mentioned. It would be possible to construct a very different narrative and reach other conclusions if different journals were consulted.
However, on the basis of wider research it is possible to state that this newspaper material was representative of broad currents of opinion. Where possible, contemporary comment is cited as evidence of this. Patterns of continuity from one period to another and from one newspaper to another also suggest that the press did shape opinion, creating a received wisdom that was replicated ad nauseam. The object of this investigation is to establish these patterns and indicate how they leaped across the decades despite massive political, social and economic transformations. It should not be read as evidence of attitudes permeating the whole of British society or indictment by press cutting. The point of it is to show how certain sections of the print media in conjunction with certain political circles evolved, deployed and perpetuated a way of understanding Zionism and seeing Zionist Jews. Regardless of any impact it may have had on the “real world”—be it domestic politics, British foreign policy or the Middle East—a pattern of attitudes was thereby created that has enjoyed extraordinary longevity and resilience.
Another major source comprises speeches by members of parliament and other utterances by politicians. This has a double value. First, it substantiates the occurrence of stereotypical and negative thinking about Jews in society as a whole, and in a very important section of society at that. Second, where anti-Jewish rhetoric in political life echoes the press it can be taken as verification of the influence that the press wielded and its role in shaping discourse. Patterns appear in the realm of politics, too, suggesting a degree of transmission and a received wisdom about Zionism. However, it must be stressed that, as in the case of the press, the quotations presented here are selective. They could be balanced by pro-Zionist and pro-Jewish declarations by politicians, but in a limited study such as, this it is only possible to demarcate and chart one side. There is clearly much need for a comprehensive study of Zionism and anti-Zionism in British politics, society and culture. Hopefully the partial research presented here will stimulate further efforts in this direction.
Opposition to the Mandate
In its annual report to the 14th World Zionist Congress in 1923, the Executive of the World Zionist Organization reported that 1921 and 1922 had seen an unprecedented onslaught against Zionism in the British press and in parliament in the run-up to the decision to accept the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The campaign began with the arrival of a Palestinian Arab delegation in August 1921. “With the encouragement of a variety of anti-Zionist forces which gathered around it, the Delegation conducted propaganda which gained in volume and vigour as time went on, until it eventually swelled into a torrent of malignant misrepresentation.” However, the report recognized that some of the opposition was principled:
Mingled with the prejudice was a widespread desire for the reduction of British Commitments in the east, in pursuance of the general demand for economy and a genuine anxiety on the part of those who were imperfectly informed and who were disposed in good faith to take tendentious statements at their face value, lest anything should be done in Palestine which was prejudicial to legitimate Arab rights or inconsistent with British pledges.
The anti-Zionism of this period emanated almost wholly from the right wing of British politics, notably the so-called Die Hards of the Tory Party (the rump of Tory MPs who chose to stay outside the coalition government), and the mass-circulation right-wing press. This was largely because support for the creation of a Jewish National Home was the considered policy of the prime minister, David Lloyd George, and his coalition government (1917-22). Lloyd George was leader of the Liberal Party, which was perceived by the Die Hards to be the dominant and malign political force in Britain. Lloyd George was also increasingly at odds with the press barons, who included Lady Bathurst, the owner of the Morning Post, Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Times and the Daily Mail until 1922 when his brother Lord Rothermere purchased the latter, and Lord Beaverbrook, who controlled the Express Group. Their papers all became conduits for a vicious anti-Zionism that was shot through with anti-Jewish themes and tropes.
At a time when stereotypes of Jews as foreign, powerful, wealthy, money grubbing, arrogant and pushy were common and frequently expressed in polite society, negative stereotypes of Jews cropped up even in the articulation of principled opposition to Zionism. Indeed, the ubiquity of anti-Jewish attitudes and discourse makes it hard to isolate an anti-Zionism that is rooted in antipathy towards Jews from an anti-Zionism that is principled but expressed in contemporary negative stereotypes of Jews. For this very reason it may not even be necessary to distinguish principled anti-Zionism that employed anti-Jewish tropes, or anti-Zionism that used anti-Semitism cynically and instrumentally, from anti-Zionism redolent with anti-Jewish imagery that clearly emanated from a visceral antagonism towards anything Jewish. It is virtually self-evident that the anti-Zionism of the early 1920s drew both on traditional anti-Jewish tropes and also on what were then new forms of anti-Jewish discourse.
The government’s Zionist policy was typically depicted as alien to British interests and the result of machinations by rich, powerful, foreign Jews. According to the Morning Post, British taxpayers were “compelled to pay for establishing a national home for Zionist Jews.” The Zionist project was imposed on them by powerful Jews acting in the selfish interest of their people. The Morning Post singled out Sir Alfred Mond MP for attack. He was a minister in the government of Lloyd George, a rich industrialist, and one of Chaim Weizmann’s supporters in England. The Morning Post believed that Jews like Mond had other loyalties. “That is the reason why, despite the many virtues and great abilities of Sir Alfred Mond, we would like to see purely British representatives in a purely British parliament.” The paper purveyed the notion that as well as being fundamentally alien, Jews were powerful and conspiratorial. “We have frequently complained of the atmosphere of intrigue and secrecy in which they have worked, and we do not at all like the coincidence between a time of dire British necessity and the Balfour Declaration, a coincidence too suggestive of blackmail.” Having been forced to make the promise of a Jewish National Home, Britain later had to seek the imprimatur of the League of Nations, a body of international governance that the right-wing Morning Post loathed. “We have always considered the League of Nations as a sort of Jewish pawnshop which holds the pledges of the British Government.”
After a visit to Palestine and the Middle East in February 1922, Lord Northcliffe complained in The Times that the Jews in Palestine were “pushful, grasping and domineering.” The country had been at peace “before the arrival of the undesirable Jewish element.” Northcliffe set the tone for the paper’s subsequent coverage. It particularly disliked the Rutenberg concession, the agreement by which the mandatory authority granted Pinhas Rutenberg, a Russian Jewish engineer and entrepreneur, sole right to extract hydroelectric power from a dam on the River Jordan. “Why,” inquired The Times, “is it that ideal Zionism has so soon been degraded by allowing itself to become the instrument of materialist aims and of a sordid type of international finance?”
The right-wing Spectator magazine remarked of Rutenberg that “We take it that, like so many of his race what he wants is to make a big profit for himself and those concerned with him …. ” On the eve of the November 1922 General Election, in which ratification of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was a major issue, the Evening News, owned by Northcliffe’s brother, Lord Rothermere, combined a traditional anti-Jewish stereotype with antisocialism. In a leading article headlined “Levy for Levi,” it noted that the Labour Party was a supporter of Zionism. “Mr Arthur Henderson, secretary of the Labour Party, has made it plain that he would raise money from British sources by levy and give it to Levi.” A few days before the poll, the Evening News carried a headline “Why Pay for the Jews” and underneath in smaller type, “National Home.” Pursuing the same theme in parliament during a debate on Zionism, the right-wing Tory MP N. Pemberton Billing asked if the government would “appeal to the Jewish population to raise funds for this purpose and so relieve the British taxpayer. They are very wealthy.”
One article in the Sunday Express, owned by Lord Beaverbrook, was couched in Biblical imagery and ran the gamut of traditional anti-Jewish discourse from the blood libel to accusations of Jewish avarice. The article was headlined in large type: ‘The British Ass and the Zionist Jew. More Christians in Palestine than Hebrews. The Double Burden We Bear.’ It continued: “At the expense of the British taxpayer a Zionist Government, with a Jewish Governor, has been established in Palestine. ‘Judah has washed his garments and his clothes in the blood of grapes.’ Out of the great wine-press of the Great War paid for by British blood and British treasure, has arisen a Jewish State in Palestine.” British troops had died to establish a Jewish despotism over Christians and the “subsidised importation of Jews from Russia.” For the Sunday Express, though, “the Jewish Palestine is an inverted pyramid precariously poised on British treasure and British bones.” This was not acceptable.
The British ass may be strong, but he is tired of bowing his shoulder to bear the burden of Judah. He is sick of becoming a servant unto Jewish tribute. Yet, marvellous to relate, he is not an anti-Semite. He does not object to the hand of Judah being ‘in the neck of his enemies.’ But he does object to it being on the neck of his best friend in the whole world, the British taxpayer.
The stereotype of Jews as wealthy and powerful coexisted happily with the newer trope of the Jew as Bolshevik and a potent agent of revolutionary upheaval. The equation of Jews with European revolutionary movements was rooted in anti-revolutionary propaganda in the Tsarist Empire and went back to the 1870s, if not earlier. But the specific equation of Jews with Bolshevism received a massive boost from anti-Bolshevik propaganda during the Russian Civil War.
Both tropes coalesced in Rutenberg, the former Russian revolutionary turned Zionist and entrepreneur. “Who is this Mr Rutenberg,” asked the Morning Post, “that he should supplant an honest British firm in this enterprise? Is he a communist or a capitalist now?” In a further comment that added traditional religious-based antipathy, the paper added “We see no ‘honour and glory’ in conquering Palestine in order to hand over the holy waters of the Jordan to a Rutenberg …. ” Indeed, to the right-wing press Zionism represented an invasion of the Holy Land by godless Bolsheviks. In The Times Lord Northcliffe asserted that “the recent importation of undesirable Jews, Bolsheviks, and others, was the partial cause of the regrettable troubles with the Arabs, who resented the general situation.” The Daily Mail asked, “Is it true that Jews of the most undesirable character are being imported into Palestine for the purposes of replacing the present inhabitants, and that these Jews caused the riots of last May and placarded the Holy City with Bolshevik appeals?” In a debate on Zionism in the House of Commons in March 1922, Viscount Curzon MP asked Winston Churchill MP, the Colonial Secretary: “Is he aware that the large majority of the Jewish immigrants to Palestine have been released from the ghettos of East and South East Europe and are saturated with Bolshevist ideas?”
The allegation that Jewish immigrants to Palestine were Bolsheviks cannot be disentangled from the belief that the Russian revolution was the result of a Jewish conspiracy. This conviction was nurtured by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which reached Britain in the context of anti-Bolshevik propaganda. But the Protocols came to inform, indeed to undergird, anti-Zionism independently of events in Russia. The forgery was published as The Jewish Peril in February 1920 and serialized in a new translation in the Morning Post in July 1920, subsequently published in book form as The Causes of the World’s Unrest. The Spectator and The Times both devoted editorials to the English version soon after it appeared. We can see that analysis of Zionism in all these papers was profoundly influenced by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
As we have seen, the Morning Post detected an ‘atmosphere of intrigue and secrecy’ about the origins of the Balfour Declaration. When several Labour Party leaders attended a fund-raising dinner of the Keren Hayesod, the paper asked:
How is it that this Zionist fund does honour to the most violent politicians of the Left? And why do politicians of the Left embrace with so much enthusiasm the Zionist cause?… It is impossible not to ask what influence has induced the Labour Party to throw over thus all the zeal for imperial economy and self determination. What telegrams, we wonder, have passed between Eccleston Square [Labour Party HQ] and the Poale Zion.
In another editorial, the Morning Post argued that the British government wanted the League of Nations to debate the Mandate issue in London because “No doubt the Zionists feel that if they could only get the Council of the League within the orbit of the British Government the thing was done. For Jewry and the British Government have become interchangeable.”
When Sir Herbert Samuel was appointed by Lloyd George to become the first High Commissioner for Palestine in 1922, the Spectator warned that behind him the Arabs saw “the controlling hand of Eastern Europe.” After the fall of Lloyd George in 1922, and the installation of a Conservative government, the Spectator called on the new Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, to pull Britain out of the Middle East:
We sincerely hope that the British Government will not follow the advice which is sure to be given by the world wise to beware of offending International Jewry. In the first place, a large part of International and British Jewry is immune to the Zionist bacillus, though it greatly dreads the disease. Next, we shall never get on satisfactory terms with Jewish financiers by showing ourselves afraid of them …. Besides, we are not financially dependent on International Jewish capital. We can paddle our own canoe in the hidden river of gold and paper.
Alleged Jewish power could be exercised in other ways than those set out in the Protocols, although there was always an overlap between different representations of the potent Jew. After the Conservative government refused to pull out of Palestine, Lord Beaverbrook unleashed an extraordinary attack on Zionism in a front-page article in the Daily Express that cast Weizmann in the role of Svengali—the literary creation of George du Maurier in his 1895 novel Trilby. According to Daniel Pick, the character of Svengali “gave expression to fears of psychological invasion, showing the Jews’ capacity to get inside—and even replace—the mental functioning of the gentile through mesmerism.” The seductive, hypnotic power of the Jew animates the article. The expansive headline screamed: “Why We Are Still in Palestine. Mystery of the Great Chaim. Of the Foreigners Who Meddle with British Affairs. Palestine Morass. Genius That Lured and Keeps Us There. Holy Land under Mortgage.” The article depicted Weizmann as “the most wonderful of the mystery men” who induced Britain to spend millions of pounds to enable Jews to take over the Holy Land. He had “a genius for exerting a hidden mastery over the minds of simple politicians.” “Who is this man of mystery,” the paper asked, “one of the minds who dominates the destinies of nations?” It outlined his career to the point at which “he has established his ascendancy in the heart of our Foreign Office and in the core of our Government.” Melding varieties of Jewish power, the article described Weizmann as heading a vast political and financial empire that was so deeply embedded in Palestine that “gentiles wouldn’t dare meddle with it.”
Indeed, the British right-wing press and politicians opposed to Zionism seemed unable or unwilling to appreciate the movement for what it was, denying its moral claims, rationality or utility. Taking another tack, they imposed a curious double standard on Zionism. They repeatedly claimed that it should be an ethereal, spiritual movement. The Times, for example, protested that the British were now defending “mainly a political movement, largely of an alien character.” This was a form of double standard because no other nationalist movement was treated this way. It was also a rhetorical device to delegitimize the presence of Jews in Palestine and invalidate their cause. By constructing Zionism as a purely spiritual movement and, conversely, denouncing the Jewish immigrants as East European, secular and left wing, the anti-Zionists undercut their relationship to the Holy Land and rendered them alien to it.
The alleged illegitimacy of Zionism was useful in explaining the much-remarked upsurge of anti-Jewish feeling. In a signed article in his paper, Lord Beaverbrook posed as a friend of the Jews and asked: “Why is there such a marked recrudescence of feeling against the Jews?” The answer: “Politics—a racial policy known as Zionism.” Beaverbrook explained that Zionism set the Jew apart from the rest of the community. Worse, Zionism cost money. “The Palestine policy is the biggest stumbling block that the Jews of England have to face. It is interpreted by the taxpayer as an additional impost on the income tax.” In the article Beaverbrook also pointed to Jews who were opposed to Zionism as evidence that anti-Zionism could not be anti-Jewish. This was a common tactic. These antagonists of Zionism were immune to the notion that deciding who was a “good Jew” and who a “bad Jew” was itself a form of anti-Jewish practice.
The anti-Zionist movement in Britain in the early 1920s was populated by people like Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who had made a career out of impugning the loyalty of Jews and harrying their presence in England. Many who embraced the Palestinian Arab delegation in London during 1921-22—such as Arnold White, author of The Hidden Hand (1917), or Nesta Webster, who popularized the Protocols in her books on the French Revolution and Freemasonry—wrote explicitly anti-Semitic tracts. Throughout this period, although it is possible to disentangle principled opposition to Zionism from sheer antipathy to Jews, so much objective criticism was couched in anti-Jewish discourse that the differentiation is almost pointless. It was received wisdom that Jews were rich, powerful, international in character and influence, devious and avaricious. Much of this was traditional stereotyping, but Zionism also attracted the myth of the Jew as Bolshevik and was taken to be an emanation of, if not the very evidence for, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
Conflict over Palestine
The response to the anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in 1929 offers a window into attitudes and examples of rhetoric at the mid-point of the interwar years. In many respects, political and press responses to the turmoil of 1929 closely followed the patterns established in the early 1920s. But there were significant differences. Years of peace and prosperity in Palestine had habituated the public to possession of the Mandate and there was no great wave of anti-Jewish feeling for anti-Zionists to capitalize upon.
Reports and comments in The Times were objective and calm. The paper recounted the events leading up to the outbreak and the significance of the riots. Its editorial position was that order had to be restored as a top priority. “Our plain duty and our plain interest point the same way.” Coverage of the riots dominated the front page of the Daily Express from 26 to 29 August and then subsided. The reportage was quite balanced and it was the first national daily to get a special reporter to Jerusalem. C. J. Ketchum supplied the paper with vivid “Boys Own” copy in which the Arabs were the villains, the Jews the victims and the British the heroes.
By contrast, the editorial comment was totally unbalanced. Beaverbrook’s Daily Express and Sunday Express reverted to exactly the same editorial position they had held in 1920-22, when they had carried some of the most distorted reporting and vitriolic editorial attacks on Zionism to emanate from Fleet Street. In its first editorial declaration, the Daily Express noted the shock that the riots had caused around the world and protested against the lacklustre British military reaction. But the leader writer then restated the paper’s traditional hostility to “expensive responsibilities without any adequate return” such as the Mandate. On 31 August, an editorial headlined “Still Paying for Our Folly” elaborated on this theme. It was necessary to restore order, but once this had been achieved it would be time to reassess Britain’s role in Palestine. Millions of British people, it suggested, were wondering why their country was involved there at all. “What possible connections are there between Palestine and British interests? What do we stand to gain now or hereafter, directly or at second hand, for all the trouble and expense we have incurred in accepting the Mandate and living up to its responsibilities? It is not merely a thankless task—we are used to that: it is also a task that puts us on trial before the world over an issue that fundamentally is not a British concern at all.”
When, in the light of the riots, the Labor government reconsidered its obligations to the Zionist movement, it could therefore rely on approval from the Conservative press. Of these papers, the most vociferous was Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail, which revived the “bag and baggage” rhetoric of the early 1920s. In its first editorial on the riots, the paper complained that “bickering” over the Wailing Wall seemed to be “perennial.” This time, however, it suspected that some “mysterious external influences may have been at work, inspired not so much by religious fanaticism as by strictly mundane calculations.” This was a reference to the old Bolshevik bogey: within a week, the paper was blaming “Soviet agents” for stirring up the Arab population of Britain’s Middle Eastern possessions.
On 27 August, the Daily Mail returned to its attack on the Mandate with a fierce editorial entitled “That Foolish Mandate.”
The root of the whole trouble was planted when the Coalition Government embarked on the futile and perilous policy of attempting to make Palestine a ‘national home’ for the Jews. Against this stupid and mischievous enterprise the Daily Mail has protested for years …. We have shown from the outset that it was unjust, dangerous, and dishonourable, besides imposing a superfluous and intolerable burden upon the British taxpayer; that it ran counter to our own pledge at the close of the war, to give Palestine a Government based ‘on the free choice of the native population’; and that it was bound to be resented by the overwhelming majority of that population.
It then recited the established anti-Zionist argument: that there were only 75-80,000 Jews as against 750,000 Arabs; that British bayonets were needed to preserve the ‘privileged position’ of the ‘recent immigrants.’ The editorial urged that ‘when order is restored the matter, in its larger aspect, must not be allowed to rest.’ The British position derived from a ‘casual declaration’ made to ‘a very unrepresentative Jewish group’ and it should not be regarded as binding. The paper concluded: “We hope that Mr MacDonald [the Labor Prime Minister] and his colleagues will waste no time in re-opening the question, and that they will go closely into the whole outrageous folly of endeavouring—with British backing—to convert an old Arab state into a sham Jewish ‘nation’ at the expense of the British taxpayer.”
A few days later, another editorial demanded “Give Back the Mandate.” As far as the Daily Mail was concerned, there was no point in restoring order only to see disturbances break out yet again. “There is now no excuse for going on with it.” Like the Beaverbrook press it tapped the mood of isolationism amongst the British public. “We cannot afford these expensive mandates. We are getting out of Egypt and Germany and we hope the Government will lose no time in settling up affairs in Palestine and Mesopotamia and passing back the mandates to the League of Nations.”
For different reasons, the now influential Labour press was also less than sympathetic towards the continuation of the Mandate. This marked a shift in attitudes towards Zionism and the Jews. The Labour Party and the socialist press had played a marginal role during the controversies of the 1920s. When they did express themselves, as Josef Gorny has shown, Labour politicians and publicists were moderately pro-Zionist. They saw Jewish settlement in Palestine as the conduit for modernization of the region. They sympathized with the aspirations of left-Zionists working to create a socialist Jewish state that would help to end the plight of the Jewish masses in eastern Europe by providing them with a homeland and social justice at one and the same time. Arab opposition to Zionism increasingly bothered the British left, but it was usually dismissed as the forces of reaction opposed to the creation of a progressive Palestine. The contradictions between anti-imperialism and support for the Mandate were never fully resolved, but the issue was hardly acute while the Labour Party was in opposition.
The position that the Labour Party and the left in Britain took towards Zionism was, however, not simply determined by its stand on imperialism. It was also informed by stereotypical attitudes towards the Jews and an ambivalence rooted in a century of progressive, liberal thinking on “the Jewish Question.” The British left, no less than other progressives, bifurcated Jews into “good” and “bad” varieties. The former were Jewish workers, the latter were Jewish capitalists. Thus the doctrinaire anti-imperialism of the British left was complemented by a no less ingrained antagonism towards rich Jews. When J. Ramsay MacDonald, a future Labor Prime Minister, visited Palestine in 1922 at the invitation of the Zionist movement, he reflected on the difference between the socialist pioneers in the settlements and the parasitic Jewish capitalists of the diaspora. MacDonald contrasted the pioneers to
the rich plutocratic Jew, who is the true economic materialist. He is the person whose views upon life make one anti-Semitic. He has no country, no kindred. Whether as a sweater or a financier, he is an exploiter of everything he can squeeze. He is behind every evil that Governments do, and his political authority, always exercised in the dark, is greater than that of Parliamentary majorities. He is the keenest of brains and the bluntest of consciences. He detests Zionism because it revives the idealism of his race, and has political implications which threaten his economic interests.
As this rather extraordinary statement shows, even well-informed progressive left-wing intellectuals such as MacDonald had been contaminated by the myth of Jewish parasitism, power and conspiracy. The pro-Zionist discourse of the left coexisted with anti-Semitism. More than that, it actually validated anti-Semitic notions and made it possible for socialists who thought themselves opposed to racialism to voice basic slurs about the Jews. All subsequent manifestations of left-wing anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are latent in this moment. Implicitly for the left, Zionism was acceptable only if it was opposed to “Jewish capitalism.” The fact that many wealthy Jews in Britain were also super-patriotic assimilationists who contested Zionism fortified the belief of non-Jewish left-wingers that as long as they espoused Zionism they could articulate what was, in effect, rich-Jew anti-Semitism. This trait pervaded the Labor Party from top to bottom, and from right (where MacDonald was located) to left. George Lansbury, who would succeed MacDonald as leader of the Labour Party and guardian of its socialist values, was also prone to juxtapose rich Jews and poor Jews. He lauded the Zionist movement for seeking a way to alleviate the suffering of the latter as against the anti-Zionist rich Jews who were content to exploit Jewish workers. These stereotypical and doctrinaire points of view proved to be remarkably persistent.
The Palestine riots of August 1929 and the subsequent inquest harshly exposed the contradictions of the Labor position. The fact that the riots occurred while Labor was in office, having formed a minority government under MacDonald in October 1929, made this confrontation unavoidable. A commission of inquiry despatched by Colonial Secretary Lord Passfield reported that Palestinian Arabs were alarmed by the volume of Jewish immigration and the extent of Jewish land purchases. In 1930 Passfield issued a White Paper proposing the restriction of Jewish immigration and the curtailment of land buying for Jewish settlement.
The socialist press as a whole was committed to the principle of native self-government, a commitment that inevitably conflicted with the notion of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Fortunately, the terms of the Mandate allowed the party to circumvent the clash between its formal anti-imperialism and the perpetuation of British rule. Although an editorial in the Daily Herald on 27 August 1929 called for a re-examination of the Mandate, over the following months it loyally supported the government line, which was to mollify Arab opposition but maintain the Mandate and the corollary commitment to foster the Jewish National Home. The New Statesman, edited by Clifford Sharp, took a more independent stand. The journal was founded in 1913 and was held in high esteem within the labor movement. But a sharply worded editorial effectively calling for Britain to consider withdrawing from Palestine also revealed the continuity of deep-seated left-wing prejudices about Jewish wealth and power. The editorial maintained that the Mandate had become unworkable, but asserted that the true extent of the conflict was being concealed from the public by a world press that was under Jewish financial control.
The crisis of 1929-31 crystallized a shift in thinking and rhetoric within the British left. Passfield tended to perceive the Zionists as well-resourced, white, European settlers who were prone to exploit the natives, in this case the Arabs, in the same way as European colonists exploited indigenous peoples. This view was not simply a reaction to the riots and the inquest into what caused them. It was embedded in the socialist doctrine that made it hard for him to accept that a nationalist movement could be simultaneously a socialist one. Whenever socialist Zionists tried to exploit fraternal ties with the Labor Party and the labour movement in Britain, Passfield and those who thought like him felt confronted by a paradox that violated the laws of development. Furthermore, the greater the pressure he experienced from Zionist lobbyists in Britain and the USA, the more he became convinced that he faced a wealthy and powerful international Jewish movement.
If the right had been predominantly anti-Zionist and unselfconsciously anti-Jewish during the 1920s, the crisis of 1929-31 showed that the left was dogged by ambivalence. It denounced anti-Semitism ritually, yet bifurcated Jews into those that were good and those that were bad. Even good socialist Jews posed a problem for some on the left if they were also Zionists. The radical left saw Zionism as an adjunct of British imperialism that benefited from Britain’s imperial potency even if it was not excessively powerful in and of itself. The very elements on the left that differentiated Jewish workers from Jewish capitalists also tended to highlight the power of Jewish finance and alleged Jewish control of the press. The Zionist campaign against the 1930 White Paper that was carried out from Warsaw to New York appeared to the left as evidence of international Jewry at work. While socialist politicians and pressmen carefully avoided the crude rhetoric of the anti-Semites, their language frequently paralleled that of the right.
Nevertheless, once the storm over the White Paper had passed, the Labor Party settled down to a position that was overwhelmingly pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist, and that was constantly reinforced by a common dismay over the persecution of the Jews in Europe and a shared antifascism. This shared agenda tended to mask the potential for conflict over Palestine and the persistence of negative attitudes despite even the horror of anti-Semitism on the continent. The vulnerability of some on the left to anti-Jewish discourse was laid bare by the behavior and rhetoric of key Labor politicians in the critical years 1945-48.
In July 1945 a Labor Government was elected by a huge landslide. Clement Attlee became Prime Minister and Ernest Bevin was appointed Foreign Secretary. Neither was warmly inclined towards Zionism even though Bevin had worked closely with Poale Zion during the 1929-30 controversy. They both believed that diaspora Jews were primarily a religious group and that their future lay in the achievement of progressive, tolerant regimes in the countries in which they lived, rather than in a Jewish state in Palestine. Attlee and Bevin bridled at the strength of the pro-Zionist campaign, especially in America, to allow Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution and genocide to enter Palestine. They resented President Truman’s support for Zionist demands and blamed this on the power of the American Jewish vote. Both tended to assume that pro-Zionist statements by politicians in the USA were the result of political calculation rather than an expression of principle or a response to felt needs. Bevin was also prone to accuse the Jews of fomenting anti-Jewish feeling by their impatience to achieve a Jewish state.
Bevin was roundly criticized for his notorious statement to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in November 1946 warning Jews not to “want to get too much to the head of the queue” in their eagerness to get out of Europe. The phrase, which tactlessly echoed the stereotypical description of Jews as “pushy”, may have come from Attlee who had earlier used it in a cable to Truman. But Bevin spoke in public and his views were amplified within the labor movement. The Birmingham Town Crier, a local Labor Party paper under Bevin’s domination, occasionally employed blatant anti-Jewish rhetoric. An editorial on 31 August 1946 (following the attack on the King David Hotel by Jewish terrorists) was headlined “The Eternal Jew,” echoing the title of the Nazi propaganda film. No less egregious, it quoted the words of Shylock and turned them against Jewish terrorists in Palestine, drawing on a deeply embedded stereotype of the merciless Jew. The Town Crier regularly adverted to the role and power of “international Jewish finance” in the Zionist campaign against the British Mandate. The paper, echoing Bevin’s stated view that Zionists were antagonizing public opinion, warned that anti-British propaganda Britain in the USA, as well as terrorism in Palestine, would heighten anti-Semitism.
At points the anti-Zionist discourse of the left overlapped with the immoderate statements emanating from the right. On 5 January 1947 an editorial in the Sunday Times challenged British Jews to denounce Jewish terrorism in Palestine. This was a classic ploy. The demand was premised on the notion that the Jews formed an international collectivity and that one part of it was responsible, or liable, for the actions of another part. British Jews were damned whatever they did: if they condemned the terror campaign they affirmed its existence and implied a measure of responsibility, but if they did not they stood accused of complicity and treachery. But, as we have seen, there was nothing new in the identification of Jews with dual loyalty or with the game of playing off “good Jews” against “bad Jews.” Nor was it new to imply that Jewish behaviour justified anti-Jewish attacks, which was the obverse of calling on one set of Jews to disown the behaviour of another set.
Diaries from this period kept by volunteers for Mass Observation (MO), a large-scale anthropological research project, show that the adverse publicity generated by the Palestine crisis and the rhetoric emanating from the center-right and -left leached into popular opinion. The evidence of anti-Semitic attitudes and language amongst the public at large (insofar as the MO reporters may be regarded as typical) is all the more remarkable given the recent torrent of news from Europe about the consequences of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda and policy. For this reason it is worth dwelling on an unusual but striking convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Maggie Joy Blunt was a diarist who worked in marketing for a metals company and lived near Slough, outside London. On 25 May 1945 she was already expressing anxiety that “The pledge to the Jews in respect of Palestine is especially dangerous” and feared that “more poor British tummies will die in a cause they profit not by.” In October, Edie Rutherford, a middle-aged housewife in Sheffield who consistently espoused anti-Jewish views, reflected on reports of the well-organized illegal immigration to Palestine and inquired archly, in a manner that suggests the impact of Bevin’s accusations, “Now who is behind it all?” Traditional anti-Jewish prejudice colored perceptions of Zionist Jews regardless of their actions. The elderly Herbert Brush, a former engineer in London, recorded walking by the headquarters of the Zionist Federation where he supposed the Jews were “cooking up something to say to the Government about Palestine. There was no mistaking the Jewish proboscis of the men…”
As the conflict in Palestine intensified and casualties mounted, the tone of the diarists became harsher. Edie Rutherford wrote in December 1946, “As more and more lads are killed there, I begin to wish we had started the war a bit later, so that Hitler would have exterminated a few more Jews.” Reflecting the pervasive dichotomy between good/bad Jews, she remarked, “All very well for good Jews to write to the papers saying ALL Jews aren’t bad—oh yeah? Why don’t the good Jews, then, use their influence with the bad Jews?” Rutherford excoriated “rich” Jews and implicitly sympathized with the threat of “reprisals” they faced from local fascists. The vituperation reached its climax after the hanging by the Irgun of two British NCOs in August 1947. The diarist B. Charles, a homosexual antiques dealer in Edinburgh, declared that “The Jews are a scourge to mankind. I should rejoice to know every Jew—man, woman and child—had been murdered! We ought to drop six atomic bombs on six different cities in Palestine and wipe out as many Jews as possible.” Edie Rutherford wrote “I am not surprised and quite glad that people are taking their revenge on Jews in this country.” Jewish assertions of loyalty and condemnations of terrorism in Palestine cut no ice with her. “I don’t accept as sincere the comments of Jews these last few days. In their hearts I believe all Jews are glad to hit us British—they are notoriously lacking in moral courage on the whole.”
During 1947, Sir Oswald Mosley revived the British Union of Fascists and took its campaign onto the streets, attempting to capitalize on the ill feeling generated by the events in Palestine. The attacks by Jews on British soldiers in Palestine were meat and drink to the British Union agitators. After the two British NCOs were killed in August 1947, Jewish communities throughout Britain were struck by riots: property was destroyed, synagogues damaged and cemeteries desecrated in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. In this instance, anti-Zionism was crudely and instrumentally harnessed to an anti-Jewish campaign.
These attacks were the first of what would become a characteristic of extreme anti-Zionism, connecting disturbances in the Middle East with cemetery desecrations in UK cities. Until today, damage to synagogues and Jewish cemeteries reflects spikes of tension in the region. However, the 1947 disturbances also represent the high-water mark of a popular right-wing anti-Zionist discourse that overlapped with or utilized anti-Jewish tropes. When British interests were uncoupled from the Zionist movement, right-wing anti-Zionism declined into a species of pro-Arab sentimentalism or remained an offspring of antipathy towards Jews. Hostility to Jews and Israel lingered on in society, and was quite common amongst the upper strata, but it was not the mobilizing issue it had once been. By contrast, the mass-based left adopted anti-Zionism as a “poster-issue.” Socialist doctrine, more than perceived interests, became the generating station for anti-Zionism.
The New Left and Anti-Zionism
Between 1948 and 1956, British political attitudes to Zionism tended to echo perceived British interests in the Middle East as refracted through party doctrine and ideology. The Conservatives were cool about Zionism except when Israel was a useful tool in British Middle East policy, exemplified by the collusion with Israel at the time of the Suez Affair. The Labour Party condemned this dalliance because it was the parliamentary opposition and was obliged to do so, but also because it seemed a last reflex of British imperialism to which the party was opposed on doctrinal grounds. The Anglo-French military action in collusion with Israel sparked allegations of dual loyalty against Jewish MPs, but from an unexpected direction. Because the bulk of Jewish MPs were in the Labor Party and followed the party line, they were criticized for having a double allegiance by members of the Jewish community who thought their first loyalty should have been to their Jewishness and Israel.
However, when Labour was in power during the 1960s its policy on Israel and Zionism was determined by a generation of politicians such as Harold Wilson, Richard Crossman and Michael Foot who had been strongly pro-Zionist in the 1940s. To them, Israel was a socialist country that offered a showcase for socialist development policies. This fundamentally pro-Zionist, pro-Israel posture was undermined by the emergence of the New Left and the generation of 1968, a process that saw anti-Zionism migrate from the right to the left of politics. This historic shift was a response to new Middle Eastern realities. After 1967 Israel was perceived as a hegemonic regional power closely allied with the USA. The Palestinian cause naturally took its place alongside national liberation movements that were cast as antagonistic to American interests. The shift also reflected social change and ethnic politics in Britain. Throughout the diaspora, Jewish communities were increasingly middle class and Israel was installed as a central tenet of Jewish identity. Whereas the Jewish community had once been a social bedrock of the left, revolutionary Marxist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups now attempted to root themselves in Black and Asian immigrant populations. Since New Left leaders believed that these groups would identify with Third World struggles, they deployed anti-Zionism as a central element of their appeal.
In the course of relocating from the right to the left, anti-Zionism took with it many traditional elements of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist discourse. A typical article in the London Socialist Leader in October 1970 attacked “Zionism—Religious Fascism.” According to the article, typical of its genre, Zionism was the product of Judaism:
It was primarily in pursuance of, and for the eventual fulfilment of, such prophecies that Zionism was founded at the turn of the century, with the express purpose of restoring the ‘Chosen Race’ to Israel, the ‘Holy Land,’ Palestine, that Jehovah the God of the Jews had given to their remote ancestors but from which they had been expelled by Roman pagan invaders in AD 70 exactly 19 centuries ago.
Since religion was ephemeral and invalid, this was hardly a good reason to create a state.
The real paradox inherent hitherto in the current state of Israel is that it was actually founded for a different purpose from which its present leaders advocate. Currently, we have the still further paradox of a Zionist racial state claiming the sympathy and support as a ‘National Home’ for the Jews ….
The left denied that the Jews were a nation with any claim to an ancestral homeland, although they were happy to bolt onto that hoary allegation a contradictory claim that the Jews were a unified ‘race’ that sought to maintain a “racial state” in Israel.
The allegation that Zionism was racist was authorized when the United Nations (UN) pronounced Zionism a form of racism in 1975. This step greatly increased the value of anti-Zionism for ethnic politics in the UK. The UN resolution made it possible to link popular mass-based anti-racist campaigns at home with palpably less relevant anti-Zionism. When the right took power in Israel in 1977, the final elements to complete the realignment of anti-Zionism fell into place. Throughout the late 1970s in Britain, revolutionary Marxist, Trotskyite and Maoist student groups used the National Union of Students’ “No platform for racists” policy to ban Jewish student societies that were branded Zionist and therefore racist. By the mid-1980s the cadres of the New Left were in positions of power within municipal government and anti-Zionism went from doctrine to policy. For example, the Greater London Council (GLC) under Ken Livingstone routinely espoused anti-Israel positions. This was also part of the GLC’s ethnic politics and the attempt to engage Irish, Black and Asian Londoners by espousing anti-imperialist, Third World causes.
For years, Soviet-inspired propaganda had depicted Zionism as a form of racism and asserted that, as such, it was no different from Nazism. The suggestion that an ideological affinity existed between Zionism and Nazism provided the groundwork for the accusation that Zionists and Nazis had collaborated. This was a gross distortion of history which was implicitly predicated on the malign (but hidden) activity of a vast worldwide Jewish conspiracy. During the 1980s this fantasy took hold in swathes of the left in Britain. Its centrality and tenacity was revealed by the controversy over the play Perdition written by the highly regarded and successful TV dramatist Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach. Perdition used the convention of a dramatized court case, modeled on the Kasztner case in Israel in 1953-54, to lay out every aspect of the alleged Nazi-Zionist collaboration and the alleged conspiracy by Zionist Jews to deceive the world into believing their version of the European Jewish catastrophe so as to obtain recompense through the creation of Israel.
Perdition was intended as anti-Zionist agitprop theatre. Allen, a veteran Trotskyite, said that “it does provide a subtext acutely aimed at discrediting Zionism.” He described his play as “the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because its says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is in itself racist.” But it went far beyond rational anti-Zionism. The play purported to reveal a gigantic conspiracy by powerful Jews who cruelly and mercilessly sacrificed fellow Jews in order to gain political advantage and then conspired to cover up their genocidal malfeasance. The script was laced with anti-Jewish stereotypes and Christological tropes that may have originated in Allen’s Roman Catholic upbringing. For example, one character declares that “Israel was coined in the blood and tears of Hungarian Jewry.” The courtroom is described as a “confessional” in which the accuser says he aspires to “absolution.” The legal speeches are replete with references to Pontius Pilate, Golgotha and crucifixion. The play ends with a climax similar to the Merchant of Venice: a Jew is humbled and confesses to his misdeeds. Yet, when Perdition was pulled by the management of the Royal Court Theatre, it became a cause célèbre for intellectuals and activists of the far left. On radio and TV, Loach and Allen repeatedly condemned the “Zionist lobby” for suppressing the truth about Nazi-Zionist collusion. Michael Ignatieff observed that the defenders of the play were “pandering to the latent anti-Semitism that is still a factor in the modern world.”
However “new” the New Left was and however “new” its anti-Zionism may have seemed, it embodied key structural continuities from previous forms of anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish discourse. True, anti-Zionism in the 1970s and 1980s inevitably reflected Israel’s occupation of territory after the 1967 war and its emergence as a regional superpower. Other new elements flowed from anti-imperialist and anticolonial Third World struggles, such as the identification of Zionism as racist and Israel as a colonial settler state. Soviet anti-Zionism that featured the myth of Zionist-Nazi collaboration also fed into some propaganda in the United Kingdom. In essence, though, left-wing anti-Zionism was a development of Marxist and socialist dogma concerning Jews and nationalism in general and was shot through with all the ambivalences towards the continuation of the Jews as a collectivity that had bedeviled relations between the socialist left and the Jews since Marx and earlier.
Anti-Zionism, Anti-Americanism, and 9/11
During the years of the “Oslo Process”, anti-Zionism in Britain went into remission. Anti-Semitism seemed to be, once again, the exclusive preserve of the far right. However, after the collapse of the peace process in late 2000 and the outbreak of the second Intifada, anti-Zionism in Britain and Europe experienced a sharp resurgence. Jewish communal organizations, institutions monitoring anti-Jewish currents, and various commentators now identified a “new anti-Semitism” that was organically linked to anti-Zionism and events in the Middle East. This antipathy reached new levels in the wake of the attack on America in September 2001. First, al-Qaeda’s hatred of America was widely attributed to American support for Israel. Zionism was thus held partly responsible for the events of 9/11. Second, the subsequent American-led war on international terrorism was depicted as a “crusade” against Muslims who resisted American policy in the Middle East, a quasi-imperialistic adventure that was orchestrated by Jewish neoconservative policymakers in Washington who had intimate connections with Israel and Zionism. The concatenation of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism reached its apogee in the opposition to military action against Iraq in 2003-4.
While the “new anti-Semitism” in Britain and Europe is tightly meshed with antipathies towards Zionism and Israel, certain key ingredients do not seem very “new” at all. On the contrary, they evince continuity with traditional anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist themes. For example, it is commonly alleged that Jews possess enormous wealth that is translated into political power through control of the mass media and the funding of political parties in what amounts to buying influence and then retaining it by a form of blackmail. “Jewish power” is irresponsible, unaccountable and exercised behind the scenes: it is the work of a conspiracy or a cabal. This hidden international network embraces London, Washington, New York and Jerusalem. As a result of concealed influences, American and British foreign policy is driven not by national interests but by Jewish interests, notably the service of Israel.
The chief themes and the types of continuity as well as convergence may be illustrated by several representative examples from the press and political statements. On 14 January 2002 the New Statesman, a political weekly that is virtually the house magazine of the Labor Party, appeared with a cover design depicting a golden Star of David piercing a Union flag. The illustration was meant to complement the cover story entitled “A Kosher Conspiracy.” This article, by Denis Sewell, asserted:
That there is a Zionist lobby and that it is rich, potent and effective goes largely unquestioned on the left. Big Jewry, like big tobacco, is seen as one of life’s givens. Wealthy Jewish business leaders, acting in concert with establishment types and co-ordinated by the Israeli embassy, have supposedly nobbled newspaper editors and proprietors, and ensured that the pro-Palestinian position is marginalized both in news reporting and on the comment pages.
Sewell gave evidence of journalists apparently being “nobbled” by proprietors such as Conrad Black, who is “married to Barbara Amiel, the enthusiastic Zionist,” éminences grises like Lord Weidenfeld, who breakfasts with Peter Hain MP, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Bicom, a pro-Israel lobby group, and the Israeli embassy. He concluded ironically that “The truth is the ‘Zionist lobby’ does exist, but it is a clueless bunch.” The following article, by John Pilger, stated that Prime Minster Tony Blair “shamelessly appointed a friend Michael Levy, a wealthy Jewish businessman who had fundraised for New Labor as his ‘special envoy’ in the Middle East, having first made him Lord Levy.” Pilger listed Lord Levy’s Jewish communal affiliations, mentioned his house and business in Israel, and the fact that his son worked for the Israeli Ministry of Justice. This “was the man assigned by Britain’s prime minister to negotiate impartially with Palestinians and Israelis.” Pilger compounded the picture of a lop-sided British policy by citing recent British arms sales to Israel and support for Israel’s campaign against the Palestinians.
The cover and the content of this New Statesman issue outraged many people. David Triesman, the general secretary of the Labour Party, condemned it in a letter to the weekly and the editor, Peter Wilby, subsequently admitted that he “got it wrong.” “The cover,” he said, “was not intended to be anti-Semitic; the New Statesman is vigorously opposed to racism in all its forms. But it used images and words in such a way as to unwittingly create the impression that the New Statesman was following an anti-Semitic tradition that sees the Jews as a conspiracy piercing the heart of the nation.” And yet, a few weeks later, the New Statesman carried an article by Andrew Stephen on the power of the Jewish lobby in America, entitled “Why Israel Gets an Easy Ride.” “The Jewish lobby,” Stephen claimed, “is simply too strong for any US politician, Republican or Democrat, to ignore.” Stephen recited some of the names of the donors to Clinton’s election campaign and drew links from the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC to the State Department. He concluded that “The Bush administration—even including Colin Powell—has been neatly coerced into justifying Israel’s ever mounting aggression as part of the worldwide war against terrorism.”
The fantasy of Jewish power, global influence and conspiracy was echoed by Tam Dalyell, a veteran Labour Party MP, when he was interviewed about the Blair premiership for an article in the magazine Vanity Fair in Spring 2003. Dalyell was indirectly quoted by the writer David Margolick as saying that “he thinks Blair is unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers. He mentions Mandelson, Lord Levy (Blair’s chief fundraiser) and Jack Straw …. ” This aside drew the attention of other journalists who asked Dalyell if he stood by the claim that the prime minister was in the thrall of a “Jewish cabal.” When offered the chance to backtrack or apologize, Dalyell repeated what he had been reported as saying and even enlarged on his comments by naming Jewish neoconservatives in Washington who he claimed were influencing President Bush and Blair. He told the Jewish Chronicle: “I am critical of Israel’s extreme Likud agenda, and of certain people in Washington whose considerable influence got us into a war with Iraq that was a catastrophe. That does not make me anti-semitic.”
The notion that Zionist-orientated Jews comprise a powerful and coordinated international force was also expressed by Perry Anderson in his editorial article for the highly influential theoretical journal New Left Review in summer 2001. Anderson engaged in a standard NLR polemic against Zionism, but his argument strayed into territory that had nothing to do with criticism of Israel. He observed that whereas most colonial settler states originated when settlers left the motherland, this was not the case for Jews who emigrated to Palestine. The Jews had corrected this anomaly, though, by engaging in a process of reverse colonization.
Entrenched in business, government and media, American Zionism has since the sixties acquired a firm grip on the levers of public opinion and official policy toward Israel, that has weakened only on the rarest of occasions. Taxonomically, the colonists have in this sense at length acquired something like the metropolitan state—or state within a state—they initially lacked.
This astonishing comment is a miniaturized version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It manages in just a few lines to combine several elements of anti-Jewish discourse. It rehashes the allegation leveled against Jews since the French Revolution that they form a “state within a state.” According to Anderson, Jews are inordinately powerful and exert a malign influence via control of the press and government. America is reduced to a puppet of Israel.
Thanks partly to the political realignment of Jews in the USA and the emergence of Jewish figures in the ranks of the neoconservatives, the association of Jews with the right has become a routine stereotype in much the same way that Russian Jews were once tarred with Bolshevism. But the popularization of the stereotype owes much to anti-American and anti-globalization campaigners who routinely conflate the stated goals of “Jewish neo conservatives” in Washington with US and Israeli policy. This linkage was boosted by the US response to 9/11 and, particularly, the war in Iraq. In Britain, during 2003-4, the Stop the War Coalition, an organization dominated by cadres from the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Great Britain, ran a two-track campaign against the war and in support of Palestine. The campaign slogan, “Stop the invasion of Iraq—Free Palestine”, tersely captured the coalescence of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.
This linkage was clearly set out in a message of support from the Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and Edinburgh Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) to the 2003 Cairo Conference of the International Campaign Against US and Zionist Occupations:
We want to expose the lies of imperialism that justifies the oppression of our sisters and brothers in Iraq and Palestine. We aim to expose the US project for the “new American century” as a plan for imperialist domination, in particular through the “star wars” project. We want to remove brick by brick the fear that ties so many of our people to the imperialist war lords.
However, as Naomi Klein has observed, when anti-American and anti-globalization polemicists depict US policy in Iraq as serving Israel’s interests, or Israeli repression of the Palestinians as sanctioned by a Jewish-dominated Washington, they are transforming and rehabilitating the myth of a worldwide Jewish network operating with selfish and malignant intentions.
The attack on Zionism as a form of racism allied to or identical with Nazism also resurfaced amongst left-wing intellectuals and parties after 2000. In April 2002, Professor Tom Paulin, a poet and Oxford academic, told the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram in an interview that American Jewish settlers on the West Bank “should be shot. I think they are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hate for them.” This was not the first time Paulin had made this identification. He had earlier compared Israelis to Nazis in a poem “Killed in Crossfire,” published in the Observer:
We are fed this inert
This lying phrase
Like comfort food
As another little Palestinian boy
In trainers jeans and a white tee-shirt
Is gunned down by the Zionist SS
Whose initials we should
—but we don’t—dumb goys
Clock in the weasel words
Paulin, who is a regular broadcaster on the BBC as well as being a professor of English literature at Oxford University, was never reprimanded for his poem or obiter dicta.
Within mainstream politics, too, it has become possible to equate Zionists with Nazis and to draw parallels between Nazi policy and Israeli policy with impunity. After a visit to Gaza in June 2003, the Black Jewish Labor MP Oona King compared conditions there to the Warsaw ghetto. She wrote in the Guardian: “The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature—though not its extent—to the Warsaw ghetto.” In the demonstrations organized by the Stop the War Coalition against British military action against Iraq in 2003, protesters routinely carried placards juxtaposing the Star of David with the swastika.
One significant innovation has been added to anti-Zionism since 2000. Reviewing how interest in the history of the Nazi persecution of the Jews grew in America from the 1960s onwards, Peter Novick identified a “massive investment by Jewish communal organizations in promoting ‘Holocaust consciousness’.” This “investment” was intended to solidify support for Israel, neutralize anti-Zionism, deter anti-Semitism and foster Jewish group solidarity. According to Novick: “Over the last quarter century American Jewish leadership, in response to a perception that needs had changed, has chosen to center the Holocaust—to combat what they saw as a ‘new anti-semitism’; in support of an embattled Israel; as the basis of a revived ethnic consciousness.” The political scientist Norman Finkelstein takes Novick’s argument even further. He claims that the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis is only one genocide amongst many in the last century and deserves no privileged attention. On the contrary, ‘the Holocaust’ is a cultural construct fabricated by Jews to inculcate guilt in Western nations and extract reparations money for Israel, as well as to suppress criticism of Zionism.
Novick and Finkelstein won considerable attention in the British media and both addressed audiences in the United Kingdom. They benefited anti-Zionists at a crucial juncture by depicting Holocaust memorialization as a Zionist scam. Indeed, their arguments had a multiplier effect. Whereas it was once possible to stigmatize anti-Zionism by warning that it shared a language with Nazi anti-Semitism, any reference to “the Holocaust” is now automatically deemed special pleading on behalf of Zionism and Israel. It was never very sensible to justify Israel as recompense for genocide or to defend Zionism as being merely the response to Nazi persecution, but Novick and Finkelstein have made this line of argument at best embarrassing and, at worst, almost untenable.
Academics in Britain made their own unique, practical contribution to anti-Zionism by successfully promoting the academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education. The boycott movement was started in Britain in April 2002 by Professors Steven Rose and Hilary Rose. An attempt to persuade the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to impose a blanket boycott on Israeli universities was repelled at the AUT annual council meeting in 2003. However, a second attempt, tactically restricted to a boycott of three named universities for specific alleged offences, was made at the AUT annual gathering in April 2005. The promoter of the boycott resolution, Dr. Sue Blackwell, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, called on AUT members to support action against the “illegitimate state of Israel.” This time the boycotters were successful, if only by a narrow margin.
It was soon evident, however, that the anti-Zionist boycott had anti-Jewish implications. In effect it targeted only Jewish Israelis because the method of implementation relied on guidance from Palestinian organizations that depicted Arab Israelis as “victims” of discrimination and oppression. Furthermore, it excluded from the boycott any Israeli who agreed to condemn the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a requirement that would be surely irrelevant in the case of Arab Israelis. Nevertheless, the passage of the AUT resolution was indicative of the degree to which Zionism and Israel have acquired negative connotations amongst the most highly educated sector of British society.
Continuities and Discontinuities
In this survey of anti-Zionism in Britain certain remarkable convergences and continuities appear. Jews are consistently credited with great power and identified with international finance. The alleged financial power of world Jewry is deemed the source of their overweening political power. Jews are said to be installed at the heart of politics in Washington and London. Their power is exerted covertly and Jewish control of the press is used to mask it. Jews are blamed for anti-Semitism. Max Hastings, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard, and once a vociferous supporter of Israel, recently wrote: “If Israel persists with its current policies, and Jewish lobbies around the world continue to express solidarity with repression of the Palestinians, then genuine anti-semitism is bound to increase.” The game of good Jew/bad Jew is still played. Writing in defence of Dalyell, the Trostkyite journalist Paul Foot observed that “he is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure. But that is a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists.” Foot continued: “The most honourable and principled Jews here, and in Israel, are those who oppose the imperialist and racist policies of successive Israeli governments.” He gave as an example Tony Cliff (Gluckstein), his mentor in the Socialist Workers Party.
Certain stark discontinuities also appear, although on closer examination what at first appears to be a caesura seems more like a process of elision. Jews and Zionists are no longer identified with Marxism or subversive movements of the left. But the withering away of the Jewish left and the collapse of communism have not ended the political stereotyping of Jews and Zionism. Instead, they are ritualistically associated with the ideology and policies of the right, notably in the guise of neoconservatism. For the anti-globalization movement, Israel and Zionism represent agents of American capitalism and global hegemony in much the same way as for the right eighty years ago they were the agents of Bolshevism and world revolution.
Explicit religious references are largely absent from anti-Zionism amongst nominal Christians, as would be expected in a secular era. However, there have been instances when even these ancient tropes have been invoked. During the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by the IDF in spring 2002, religious images were sometimes employed by cartoonists, while journalists and politicians repeatedly, and gratuitously, invoked the sanctity of the place. One cartoon in the Observer showed three wise men heading past a signpost to the Church of the Nativity. Two wise men carry boxes marked gold and frankincense; but the third figure is an Israeli soldier carrying a gun inscribed “murder.” It was at this time that an Episcopalian church in Edinburgh commissioned a mural that showed Israeli soldiers in place of the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross.
It may be farfetched to argue that a cartoon that appeared in the Independent on 27 January 2001 depicting Ariel Sharon biting off the head of a Palestinian baby is a deliberate evocation of the myth that Jews engage in the ritual slaughter of Christian children. But it is surely fair to question why such an offensive cartoon should have been printed on Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day. The cartoonist, Dave Brown, subsequently won a press industry award for this work.
Amongst Muslims in Britain the use of religious imagery and rhetoric in the context of anti-Zionist discourse is widespread. But this is only one, small, aspect of the unprecedented situation created by the presence of a large, well-organized, media-savvy and politicized Muslim population in Britain. Anti-Zionism is now firmly established in the diverse Muslim communities of the United Kingdom: indeed, it is one of the few issues on which all Muslims can unite. A recent report of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia demonstrated that there is a clear correlation between anti-Jewish violence and rhetoric and events in the Middle East. The report showed that Arab-speaking Muslims access crude anti-Semitic propaganda from Arab satellite TV stations while most members of the Muslim communities visit Internet sites purveying similar material from Islamist or right-wing groups.
Several Muslim journalists, notably Faisal Bodi, have gained a platform in the mainstream press for disseminating their view that “Israel has no right to exist.” In multicultural Britain this position is treated as a legitimate point of view and it is considered the right of Muslims—like any other ethnic-faith group pursuing its interests—to articulate its rage against Israel, Zionism and Jews who are Zionists. Hence, an impeccably liberal forum such as the Guardian newspaper can carry an article denying Israel’s right to exist followed a few days later by another advocating Zionism. The genocidal implications of calling for the dismantling of Israel do not inhibit such Muslim writers or those who commission and publish their work. It is one alternative point of view and to express it is a perfect right.
Indeed, many Muslims feel that the relatively benign history of Jewish-Muslim relations renders them immune to charges of anti-Semitism. They feel no responsibility for Nazi atrocities against the Jews and, on the contrary, feel aggrieved that with the creation of Israel in 1948 Palestinian Arabs paid the price for Christian aggression against the Jews of Europe. To many young Muslims in Britain the Jews seem to be part of a wealthy, powerful white establishment that excludes them, and they cannot imagine that Jews were once the victims of institutional racism. Reminders about the fate of Europe’s Jews within living memory are dismissed as “the Holocaust industry.” Muslim representative bodies in the United Kingdom, such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, have boycotted the national Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony since its inception in January 2001. The sense that European anti-semitism has nothing to do with them Muslims insensitive to Jewish anxieties and vulnerabilities, and blunts of the counter arguments that once gave anti-Zionists pause for thought.
The death of the character of Muslim anti-Zionism was illustrated in the course of the 2005 General Election. In the constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, where Muslims comprise 40 percent of the electorate, George Galloway, leader of a small single-issue party dedicated to opposing the war in Iraq and championing the Palestinians, challenged the sitting Labor MP Oona King, who is black and Jewish. Three weeks before the poll young Muslim protesters violently disrupted the 60th anniversary memorial service to the mainly Jewish victims of a German V-2 (rocket bomb) attack on the East End which Ms. King attended. She protested that throughout the campaign Galloway’s supporters referred to her color, her gender and her father’s religion in slighting terms. Galloway succeeded in overturning King’s majority and will enter Parliament as the sole MP for his party, Respect.
However, mass-based anti-Zionism in Britain’s Muslim communities is the only manifestation of its power to mobilize people on a large scale. To this extent it reveals the starkest discontinuity in the history of anti-Zionism in Britain. In the early 1920s anti-Zionism was on a massive scale. It was blared from the headlines of a dozen influential and mass-circulation newspapers; it employed crude anti-Jewish rhetoric; it was used routinely in electoral politics; and it was hardly contested. Today, outside the Muslim population, anti-Zionism is not a mass phenomenon. Doctrinaire hostility to Israel is confined to niche publications of the left, such as the New Statesman, and the relatively small-circulation papers of the liberal-left such as the Guardian and the Independent. The more popular the paper, the more pro-Israel it tends to be. When left-of-center papers do publish anti-Israel diatribes or when a politician attacks Zionism they are met with a barrage of criticism. To that extent the situation is transformed—for the better. Yet it is disturbing to see mythic and stereotypical discourse recycled within the “chattering classes” with less and less self-restraint. Israel has always been the victim of double standards and the object of a special asperity. But the expression of a belief in Jewish power, conspiracy, treachery and malice that was once confined to a lunatic fringe has re-entered public discourse via anti-Zionism. Similarly, the denigration of Holocaust memorialization and the relativization of Jewish suffering that was previously a preserve of right-wing revisionists has moved to the core of “respectable” conversation about Israel and Zionism. While it is hard to define exactly what is afoot and to disentangle it from rational and understandable rage against the policies of Israel’s current government, there is a convergence of anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish discourse, and it is occurring not at the fringes but at the center of British political and cultural life.