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Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Tony Greenstein

Unholy Alliance

(June 2006)

From Weekly Worker, No.630, 22 June 2006.
Copied from the Weekly Worker Website with the kind permission of the author.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What is the link between Zionism and anti-semitism? Tony Greenstein explains that there is a closer connection than many modern Zionists would care to admit

If you are an anti-Zionist and a supporter of the Palestinian struggle, then you will inevitably be accused of ‘anti-semitism’. If you are Jewish, then you will likely be accused of being a ‘self-hater’ – the label the Nazis attached to anti-fascist Germans.

The accusation of ‘anti-semitism’ has become so widespread that it is regularly hurled by Zionists at each other. Even Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated Israeli prime minister, was depicted in posters by opponents of the 1993 Oslo accords wearing an SS uniform. [1] So ludicrous has this become that when the Marks and Spencers board rejected a takeover bid from Philip Green, the latter accused the M&S chairman, Paul Myners, of anti-semitism! [2]

For the last 30 years, there has been a continuous redefinition of anti-semitism. No longer is it about racism or discrimination, instead it is about hostility to a political movement. In 2004 the US Congress passed the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, which instructs the state department to start rating governments throughout the world on their treatment of Jewish citizens. [3]

It is strange that anti-semitism, which today is a marginal prejudice, should warrant such concern by the US ruling class, when racism against Arab, muslim, black and Hispanic people barely raises an eyebrow. ‘Anti-semitism’ has become a powerful ideological tool in the hands of the United States ruling class. It is an ‘anti-semitism’ which even the most anti-semitic sections of US society – the white christian evangelists with their passions of christ – can subscribe to.

The US establishment has redefined opposition to American imperialism and its strategic asset, the Israeli state, as a form of racism. Anti-semitism has become the respectable anti-racism of the right. Zionism has taken the Jews full circle. In its strategic alliance with the USA, the Jews are once again offered ‘protection’ by the ruling class, just as in feudal times they were protected by royalty and the nobility.

The eternal Jew

As mercantile capitalism gave birth to industrial capitalism, so religious anti-semitism gradually gave way to racial anti-semitism from the 17th century onwards. [4] Whereas christian anti-semites sought the conversion of the Jews, the racial anti-semites argued it was all a question of race, not religion. The issue of the baptised Jews was to cause the Nazis all sorts of difficulties as they began to implement the final solution. [5]

In place of the eternal Jew, the Zionists posit the eternal anti-semite. For 2,000 years, according to Zionist myth, the Jews have wandered the earth, the victims of unrelenting anti-semitism, having been expelled from Palestine after the destruction of the first temple. In fact the majority of Palestinian Jewry had already dispersed to the cities of the Greek and later Roman empires, centuries before the fall of the second temple, to become a largely trading people. At the fall of the second temple in 70AD, some three-quarters of Palestinian Jews were already dispersed. [6]

And what was Zionism’s explanation of anti-semitism? That it was inherent in the non-Jew, a product of the non-Jew’s ‘natural’ antagonism. As Leo Pinsker, founder of the Lovers of Zionism, explained, “Judaephobia is, then, a mental disease, and as a mental disease it is hereditary and, having been inherited for 2,000 years, it is incurable.” [7]

Abram Leon noted in relation to this: “Zionism transposes modern anti-semitism to all of history; it saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of anti-semitism and their evolution.” [8]

During what Israel Shahak terms the classical period – approximately 800-1200AD in western Europe – and later in eastern Europe, the Jews become a ‘people-class’. They performed specific socio-economic functions as usurers and moneylenders, tax stewards, publicans, as well as certain professions allied to trade such as goldsmiths and diamond merchants. The Jews were the agents of money in a society based on use-values. As Marx observed, “We will not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but we will look for the secret of his religion in the Jews.” [9] Without their distinctive social and economic role, Judaism would have died out.

The cause of anti-semitism in this period was “the antagonism toward the merchant in every society based principally on the production of use-values.” [10] The Jews “formed an integral part of the privileged classes”. [11] Shahak notes: “… in all the worst anti-Jewish persecutions … the ruling elite … were always on the side of the Jews … all the massacres of Jews during the classical period were part of a peasant rebellion or other popular movement.” [12]

As capitalism developed in western Europe, the Jews increasingly came into conflict with the growing merchant class and were usually expelled – in England in 1290 – seeking refuge in eastern Europe. It was when capitalism began to develop in eastern Europe and Russia in the late 19th century, that the Jews once again fled or were expelled to western Europe and the United States. Some three million emigrating to the latter by 1914. It was the emigration of the Ost Juden that recreated the Jewish question in the west. As Leon remarked, “The Jewish masses find themselves wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer of rotting capitalism.” [13]

Zionism and anti-semitism

It is not surprising that the main supporters of political Zionism, which began towards the end of the 19th century, were in fact the anti-semites. And the most vociferous and bitter of Zionism’s opponents were, and remain, Jewish. When Theodore Herzl wanted to hold the first Zionist Congress in Munich in 1897, he was forced to move it from Germany to Basle in Switzerland because of the opposition of the local Jewish community. [14]

Zionism arose as a reaction to anti-semitism – not least the Russian pogroms of 1881 in the wake of the assassination of tsar Alexander II. Hundreds were killed in nearly three years of pogroms. [15] In the Black Sea port of Odessa, centre of the Hebrew enlightenment (Haskallah), the pogroms spelt the end of the dream of the petty bourgeois Jewish intellectuals that the Jews could live on equal terms with the non-Jew. As Moshe Lillienblum wrote in The way of return (1881), “When I became convinced that it was not a lack of high culture that was the cause of our tragedy – for aliens we are and aliens we shall remain even if we become full to the brim with culture … all the old ideals left me.” [16]

For the Zionists, as Pinsker noted above, anti-semitism was an incurable disease. And if it was incurable it could not be fought. In this way Zionism was different from all other political currents among the Jews in its reaction to anti-semitism: it accepted the main premise of the anti-semites – viz. that the Jewish presence among non-Jews was unnatural and that they were strangers and aliens.

Isaac Deutscher observed:

“It should be remembered that the great majority of east European Jews were, up to the outbreak of World War II, opposed to Zionism ... the most fanatical enemies of Zionism were precisely the workers ... they were the most determined opponents of the idea of an emigration from east Europe to Palestine ... of an exodus from the countries in which they had their homes and in which their ancestors had lived for centuries, the anti-Zionists saw an abdication of their rights, a surrender to anti-semitism. To them anti-semitism seemed to triumph in Zionism, which recognised the legitimacy and the validity of the old cry, ‘Jews, get out!’ The Zionists were agreeing to get out.” [17]

Herzl recognised both an identity of interest and a common ideology between Zionism and anti-semitism. When he brought out his pamphlet Der Judenstaat in 1895, the warmest welcome was from anti-semites: “Was at the printing office and talked with the managers ... both are presumably anti-semites. They greeted me with genuine cordiality. They liked my pamphlet.” [18]

Desmond Stewart’s perceptive biography notes: “… already in 1896 Austrian anti-semites were finding ammunition in Herzl’s arguments, as would the followers of Drumont …” [19] Eduard Drumont was one of the most important anti-semitic ideologues of the 19th century. He wrote an influential book, La France juive (1886) and edited a daily paper, La Libre Parole, and was one of the leaders of the anti-Dreyfusards. Herzl was full of admiration for Drumont: “But I owe to Drumont a great deal of the present freedom of my concepts, because he is an artist.” [20] Herzl lobbied for Drumont to review his pamphlet in La Libre Parole, which he did on January 15 1897, and he was delighted with the result. Drumont “praises the Zionists of Herzl’s persuasion for not seeing in us fanatics … but citizens who exercise the right of self-defence.” [21]

Likewise Herzl’s deputy, Max Nordau, in an interview with Raphael Marchant, correspondent for La Libre Parole, observed that Zionism “is not a question of religion, but exclusively of race, and there is no one with whom I am in greater agreement on this position than M. Drumont.” [22]

On this there was unanimous agreement amongst Zionist writers. The first Zionist theoretician was Moses Hess, an early acquaintance of Marx. In his pamphlet, Rome and Jerusalem, Hess wrote that “Race struggle is primary and class secondary”, [23] before going on to explain:

“The Germans hate the religion of the Jews less than they hate their race – they hate the peculiar faith of the Jews less than their peculiar noses ... reform, conversion, education and emancipation – none of these open the gates of society to the German Jew, hence his desire to deny his racial origin.” [24]

Zionism and anti-semitism shared the same political outlook and territory. Herzl soon realised that “The anti-semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-semitic countries our allies.” [25] The touchstone both for Zionism and the anti-semites (and later the Nazis) was their loathing of the French Revolution, which had liberated the Jews from the ghettos and granted political equality. The Zionists, like the orthodox rabbis, saw emancipation as the cause of all their ills. Zionism was the secular equivalent of Jewish orthodoxy.

As Zionist historian Noah Lucas observed, “Zionism was the antagonist above all of the individual assimilation associated with emancipation.” [26] Max Nordau’s speech to the first Zionist Congress in 1897 derided the French Revolution and emancipation as a mere “geometric mode of thought of French rationalism”. Nordau’s only doubts regarding Zionism were that the Jews might not be “anthropologically fit for nationhood.” [27] Likewise Nahman Syrkin, the first ‘socialist’ Zionist, held that “Emancipation of the Jews was, from the beginning, a result of logical conformity to the implications of a principle rather than a real need.” [28]

It is often claimed that Herzl became a Zionist because of the 1894 Dreyfus affair – Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was falsely accused of espionage, stripped of his rank and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil Island. This is unlikely. The Dreyfus affair became a cause célèbre and was proof that anti-semitism could be successfully fought. It was this hostility to anti-semitism which was to result in less than 25% of French Jews being exterminated in the holocaust. [29]

Desmond Stewart confirms that it is unlikely that Herzl’s Zionism derived from Dreyfus. [30] Likewise rabbi Elmer Berger:

“Where in all the world a century before would more than half a nation have come to the defence of a Jew? Had Herzl possessed a knowledge of history, he would have seen in the Dreyfus case a brilliant, heartening proof of the success of emancipation.” [31]

Herzl himself wrote:

“In Paris ... I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-semitism.” [32]

Antidote to socialism

Herzl’s strategy, which he was not to live to see fulfilled, was to appeal to the statesmen and rulers of Europe for an imperial alliance with the fledgling Zionist movement. In the course of his travels, he met with the German emperor, tsarist ministers counts Witte and von Plehve, the Ottoman sultan, Lord Cromer, Joseph Chamberlain, King Victor Emmanuel and even the pope! His message was always the same – help the Zionist movement and you are helping the Jewish opponents of socialism and revolution.

Leonard Stein notes:

“The events of 1917 made it natural to turn to Zionism as a stabilising force in the Jewish world, and to value it for its power … to provide an antidote to the destructive mania of Jews in rebellion against their lot …” [33]

To the German kaiser Herzl wrote:

“Our movement, which is already widespread, has everywhere to fight an embittered battle with the revolutionary parties which rightly sense an adversary in it. We are in need of encouragement even though it has to be a carefully kept secret.” [34]

And when he reiterated this theme to the grand duke of Baden, the latter replied, regarding the need to keep the Zionist societies legal in Russia: “Pobedonostev ought to hear that. You should tell it to him.” [35] The grand duke had just one worry, according to Herzl:

“He took my project for building a state with the utmost earnestness. His chief misgiving was that if he supported the cause, people might accuse him of anti-semitism.” [36]

When Herzl met German foreign minister von Bulow, “The anti-socialist aspect of Zionism was gone into in the greatest detail.” [37] And when he finally got to see the kaiser, he lost no time in explaining: “We were taking the Jews away from the revolutionary parties.” [38]

The climax of Herzl’s search for anti-semitic allies came with his visit in August 1903 to the tsar’s interior minister, von Plehve, who had organised the pogroms at Kishinev barely four months previously. As Herzl was explaining Zionism, Plehve interrupted him: “You don’t have to justify the movement to me. Vous prêchez un converti” (You are preaching to a convert). [39]

This meeting was crucial to Herzl’s plans. Alone amongst political movements, Zionism in Russia was to remain legal. Plehve wrote a letter pledging “moral and material assistance”, a letter which became “Herzl’s most cherished asset.” [40] (It is difficult to overestimate the loathing with which the tsarist ministers were held in by Jews. The name of Plehve “had a resonance of evil later echoed later by that of Adolf Eichmann.” [41]) As a result of Herzl’s lobbying “there was no prohibition on Zionist activities and an official permit was even given for the holding of the second conference of Russian Zionists at Minsk (September 1902).” [42]

On February 17 1904, Plehve visited London, where he was interviewed by Lucien Wolfe for The Times. Plehve all but admitted that he had organised the pogroms “because Jewish youth were wholly giving themselves over to the revolutionary movements”. However, he “would not oppose the encouragement of Zionist ideas in Russia so far as they were calculated to favour emigration” and “he also thought that for non-emigrants they might be useful as an antidote to socialist doctrines.” [43]

Years later Jabotinsky, leader of the revisionist Zionists, was to hold similar talks with the Ukrainian leader, Petlyura, whose fascist gangs murdered some 100,000 Jews between 1918 and 1921. As Lacquer admits, “The main culprit regarding the pogroms were the nationalist forces under Petliura.” [44]

It is often claimed that Zionism is a progressive, even socialist, movement. Yet the phenomenon of ‘socialist’ Zionism occurred only because Jewish workers in eastern Europe gave their backing to the revolutionary and socialist parties, since they fought anti-semitism. The Bund’s leaders claimed that the socialism of the left Zionists was a deliberate sham, that they wore a red mask to hide their real intentions and to adjust themselves to the radical Zeitgeist. [45] Of ‘left’ Zionism, Lucas notes: “Zionism came into direct conflict with the Jewish proletariat’s perceived interest. It was in this context that the ideas of socialist Zionism were formulated.” [46]

In practice whenever the needs of Zionism and socialism conflicted, it was the latter which gave way. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president, put it succinctly in 1921:

“Whenever we come across a contradiction between national and socialist principles, the contradiction should be resolved by relinquishing the socialist principle in favour of the national activity. We shall not accept the contrary attempt to solve the contradiction by dispensing with the national interest in favour of the socialist idea.” [47]

Justifiable reaction

It was a commonplace among the Zionist leaders that anti-semitism was an understandable, if not justified, reaction to an alien Jewish presence. Jacob Klatzkin, an important Zionist intellectual and editor of its official paper, Die Welt, and co-editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, argued: “We are in a word naturally foreigners. We are an alien nation in your midst and we want to remain one.” [48]

Klatzkin was inevitably drawn into justifying anti-semitism:

“The contribution of our enemies is in the continuance of Jewry in eastern Europe. One ought to appreciate the national service which the Pale of Settlement performed for us ... we ought to be thankful to our oppressors that they closed the gates of assimilation to us and took care that our people were concentrated and not dispersed.” [49]

This theme, that anti-semitism contains a force for good, is a constant one in Zionism, as was Klatzkin’s hatred of the Jewish diaspora (Galut):

“Galut can only drag out the disgrace of our people and sustain the existence of a people disfigured in both body and soul – in a word, of a horror. At the very worst it can maintain us in a state of national impurity and breed some sort of outlandish creature … The result will be something neither Jewish nor gentile – in any case, not a pure national type ...” [50]

The logic was clear: “Instead of establishing societies for defence against the anti-semites who want to reduce our rights, we should establish societies for defence against our friends who desire to defend our rights.” [51] Nor was this merely rhetorical. At one meeting against anti-semitism, called by the German Jewish communal body Centralverein, “Zionist and anti-semitic hecklers took the same ground.” [52] As Niewyk asks, “Did the Zionists’ view of deformed Jewish lives outside of Palestine reinforce the anti-semitic stereotype of the Jews as materialists, exploiters and traitors?” [53]

Herzl’s later successor and first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, negotiated the Balfour declaration. As home secretary in 1905, Arthur J Balfour had introduced the Aliens Act to keep out Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms. In 1902 Herzl had given evidence to the Royal Commission on Aliens’ Immigration, advocating restrictions on Jewish immigration: “Herzl’s appearance before the commission could have only two effects. The anti-semites would be able to say that Dr Herzl, the expert, maintained that a Jew could never become an Englishman.” [54] When requested by Lord Rothschild not to support those advocating restrictions on Jewish immigration, he replied:

“I would be a mean creature if I said only things that could lead to a restriction of immigration. But I would be one of those mean creatures to whom the English Jews ought to erect a monument out of gratitude, because I saved them from an influx of east European Jews and thus perhaps anti-semitism.” [55]

Besides being an anti-semite, Balfour was also an ardent Zionist. Even today the Zionist headquarters in Finchley are called Balfour House. The main anti-immigration group of the early 20th century was led by Tory MP William Evans-Gordon. In his autobiography Weizmann wrote:

“The Aliens Bill in England and the movement which grew up around it were natural phenomena which might have been foreseen ... Whenever the quantity of Jews in any country reaches saturation point, that country reacts against them … England had reached the point when she could or would absorb so many Jews and no more … The reaction against this cannot be looked upon as anti-semitism in the ordinary or vulgar sense of that word ... Sir William Evans-Gordon had no particular anti-Jewish prejudice ... he was sincerely ready to encourage any settlement of Jews almost anywhere in the British empire, but he failed to see why the ghettos of London or Leeds or Whitechapel should be made into a branch of the ghettos of Warsaw and Pinsk.” [56]

Perhaps this sentiment is best summed up by Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua: “Even today, in a perverse way, a real anti-semite must be a Zionist.” [57]

In the next article we will see how the traditional Zionist attitude to anti-semitism did not change in the era of the Nazi holocaust. On the contrary, if anything, it became firmer, sealing the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the process.


1. B. Kimmerling, Politicide, London 2006, p.123.

2. Jewish Chronicle, August 6 2004.

3. D. Rennie, The Daily Telegraph, October 13 2004.

4. See R. Hilberg, The destruction of European Jewry, New York 1985, p.19.

5. See, for example, G. Reitlinger, The final solution, London 1953, p.388. The Slovakian catholic fascists, who had no compunction in deporting ‘full’ Jews, refused to allow baptised Jews to be deported. The same was true throughout Europe, including Hungary and Romania.

6. See A. Ruppin, The Jews in the modern world, London 1934, p.22; cited in A. Leon, The Jewish question – a Marxist interpretation, New York 1980, p.68.

7. L. Pinsker, Autoemanzipation, ein Mahnruf an seine Stammesgenossen, von einem russischen Juden, Berlin 1882, p.5.

8. A. Leon, op. cit., p.247.

9. On the Jewish question, Selected essays by Karl Marx, New York 1926, p.88.

10. A. Leon, op. cit., p.71.

11. I. Shahak, Jewish history, Jewish religion, London 1994, p.52.

12. Ibid., pp.66-67.

13. A. Leon, op. cit., p.226.

14. N. Weinstock, Zionism, a false messiah, 1969, p.39.

15. D. Vital, The origins of Zionism, Oxford 1980, pp.51-55.

16. Quoted in A. Hertzberg, The Zionist idea – a historical analysis and reader, New York 1981, pp.169-170.

17. I. Deutscher, The Russian Revolution and the Jewish question, The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, pp.66-67.

18. M. Lowenthall, The diaries of T Herzl, New York 1962, p.91.

19. D. Stewart, Theodor Herzl, New York 1974, p.25.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., p.251 fn.

22. Ibid., p.322.

23. M. Hess, Rome and Jerusalem, Foreword, New York 1958.

24. Ibid., p.49. See also p.71.

25. R. Patai (ed.), The complete diaries of Theodore Herzl, Vol.1, London 1960: entry for June 11 1895.

26. N. Lucas, The modern history of Israel, New York 1975, p.18.

27. Complete diaries, pp.275-76.

28. N. Syrkin, The Jewish problem and the socialist-Jewish state; cited in A. Hertzberg op. cit., p.337.

29. Reitlinger estimates that 60-65,000 French Jews died in the extermination camps, Hilberg puts the figure at 75,000 out of some 300,000.

30. D. Stewart, Theodore Herzl – artist and politician, London 1974, p.164.

31. Ibid., p.167.

32. Ibid., p.6.

33. L. Stein, The Balfour declaration, London 1961, p.162.

34. R. Patai (ed.), op. cit., p.596.

35. Ibid., p.657.

36. M. Lowenthall, op. cit., p.118.

37. Ibid., p.666.

38. Ibid., p.729.

39. R. Patai (ed.), op. cit., p.1,525.

40. M. Menhuin, Decadence of Judaism in our time, New York 1969, p.46.

41. D. Stewart, op. cit., p.316.

42. C. Weizmann, Letters and papers, Vol 2, Oxford 1971, p.284.

43. Ibid., Vol.3, p.216 fn.

44. W. Lacqueur, A history of Zionism, New York 1975, p.441.

45. B. Ehud, Zionismus oder Sozialismus, Warsaw l899, p.30; and L. Monst Origins of the Russian-Jewish, Melbourne 1947, p.136; cited in W. Lacqueur, op. cit., p.273.

46. N. Lucas, op. cit., p.35.

47. Achduth, No.16, Tel Aviv 1921; cited in Machover and Offenburg, Zionism and its scarecrows, pp.49-50.

48. J. Klatzkin, Krisis und Entscheidung in Judentum, Berlin 1921, p.118; cited in K. Hermann, Zionism and racism, Guildford 1976, p.204.

49. Ibid., p.205.

50. Ibid., p.322-23.

51. J. Klatzkin in B. Matovu, The Zionist wish and the Nazi deed; cited in U. Davies, Zionism – utopia incorporated, p.17.

52. D.L. Niewyk, The Jews in Weimar Germany, Louisiana, p.139, fn.68; citing Israelitisches Familienblatt, June 3 1920.

53. Ibid.

54. W. Lacqueur, op. cit., p.119.

55. R. Patai (ed.), op. cit., pp.1,292-93.

56. C. Weizmann, Trial and error, New York 1966, pp.90-91.

57. Jewish Chronicle, January 22 1982.

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