Hal Draper

Zionism, Israel & the Arabs

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Chapter XIII

Anti-Semitism and Arab Propaganda

Hal Draper, Zionism, Israel & the Arabs, pp. 177–189.

Labor Action, Vol. 20 No. 15, April 9, 1956, p. 6

A new book published by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith – Cross Currents, by Forster and Epstein – has created a bit of a stir as an exposé of anti-Semitic propaganda in the United States, especially as connected with international “plots.” A press conference to launch it rated prominent write-ups in most of the New York papers and a black front-page scream-head in the Scripps-Howard outlet New York World-Telegram.

I am concerned here with the last third of the book, entitled Cross-Currents in the Middle East, which deals with Arab propaganda activities in this country and their connections with native anti-Semitic agitation. This part of the ADL book is an excellent example of a disturbing trend, with reference to the fight against anti-Semitism, about which some honest words need to be said but rarely are.


The background fact, of course, is the war of propaganda in this country to line up the government and public opinion on one side or the other of the Israel-Arab conflict in the Middle East. Given U.S. power in the world, the stakes are considerable for the rivals.

In this propaganda war, it is also not surprising that the Arabs are hopelessly out-classed, out-pointed, out-thought and out-argued.

Sympathy for Israel is far from limited to the Jewish population. Leaving aside here the rights and wrongs of the Palestinian disputes: it is a fact that there is, or at any rate has been, a vast fund of sympathy for Israel which stems from vivid knowledge of the horrors and atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazi regime’s exterminationism, and a view of Israel as simply the place where the pitiful remnant of European Jewry found refuge.

There is also more than an element of a guilty conscience involved: if hundreds of thousands of Jewish DPs had to go to Israel, it was (among other reasons) because the gates of the United States and other virtuous democratic countries were closed against them. Outside of socialists like ourselves, there were few who shouted very loudly against this “democratic” compounding of the atrocities against the Jews. A few liberals took it to heart; there was not even a respectable-sized campaign to demand that the doors be opened.

There are other strands in the pattern of pro-Israel sentiment in this country, and there is a well-organized movement, with massive institutions of its own, to develop this sentiment to the full. This is the Zionist movement, plus its “non-Zionist” allies like the American Jewish Committee and the B’nai B’rith, who are ready to go down the line in defense of Israel’s interests in spite of their ideological and in part muted disagreements with the Zionists’ theories of Jewish nationalism.

The above description attempts to skirt the question of the comparative justice or injustice of Israel’s case at various times in the last few years and its relative appeal, in order to put the spotlight on the constant factors behind the judgments of public opinion on an episode like the Kibya massacre (which had an anti-Israel effect) or like the Egyptian arms deal (which had an opposite effect).

For the apparatuses which are drawn up in such a propaganda war are not built by justice or injustice though their effectiveness is conditioned by it. Certainly that is true in this case.

For comparison, think (say) of the wide American sympathy for the Irish struggle against Britain in the years especially before the First World War – a sympathy that lost nothing because of the large numbers of Irish in this country, and which was enhanced by combination with historical factors like traditional anti-Britishism here.

If anything, the advantages possessed by pro-Israel sentiment are even greater. Certainly, there are few impulsions to sympathy with the case of the Arabs, about whom Americans in general know little and who have only a small number of their people among our population. Most Americans have never seen an Arab except in movies about the French Foreign Legion.

So in a propaganda war in the U.S., under the best of circumstances for them the Arab states have two strikes against them in every respect, not excluding the financial one.

In addition, they suffer from a self-created handicap: their propagandists are stupid, incompetent, understand little about this country, and would never be effective even if a couple of millions were put behind them (though, of course, with a bankroll that size, more knowledgeable agents could be purchased).

This is said on the basis of personal acquaintance with Arab propaganda material here, which I happen to be looking into particularly in connection with the question of Israel’s Arab minority. Take the matter of falsification of facts, for example: this can be done by propagandists in either a professional or an amateurish way.

The Israel Government office in New York, for instance, puts out a pamphlet on The Arabs in Israel which is a slick, persuasive job, guaranteed to convince anyone who knows nothing at all on the subject that the Arab minority in Israel is a pampered group with completely equal rights and opportunities. It is a polished and professional job of combining half-truths with falsification.

Its opposite number is a pamphlet on the same subject distributed by the Arab Information Office in New York (run by the Arab League). It was not smart of the authors of this pamphlet to prove Zionist crimes by (say) quoting “the Zionist paper Kol Ha’am,” as if they were citing an indictment out of the mouths of the Zionists themselves. Anyone who tries to use this ammunition would find out quickly enough that Kol Ha’am is the organ of the Israel Communist Party, not a “Zionist paper,” and the real bullets in his ammunition would explode along with this dud.

Or take another bombshell put out in the war of propaganda which is our subject: a pamphlet published last year for English-language consumption by the Syrian government and distributed through the Syrian offices in this country. It is entitled Tension, Terror and Blood in the Holy Land, published in Damascus, prepared by one Musa Khuri of the Syrian University, under the imprimatur of the “Palestine Arab Refugees Institution.”

From the purely technical point of view, this 253-page booklet is terribly written, terribly organized, wandering, a mass or mess of documentation, comment, quotations, side excursions, etc. But we were speaking not simply of garden-variety incompetence but of stupid-type falsification.

One of the sections of this compendium purports to be excerpts from the excellent article by Dr. Don Peretz on The Arab Minority in Israel in the Middle East Journal for Spring 1954. Naturally this article appeals to the Arabs because it tells a good part of the truth about the mistreatment of this minority. The writer, Peretz, is a sincere follower of the ideas of the Israeli Ichud and believes in Jewish-Arab cooperation; therefore, simply by telling the truth and not by polemic, he indicts the government policy. It is natural that Arab propaganda likes to quote denunciations of authoritarianism in the Arab states. All this is fair game for the machines.

But the Damascus authors were not content simply to print it. Incredible as it may seem, they rewrote sentence after sentence in the quoted paragraphs to make it say not what Peretz wrote but what their own propaganda line demands.

Now this is the sort of crude falsification which shows lack of sophistication, unnecessary heavy-handedness. It has the gaucherie of the feudal reactionary who has never had to take account of how modern minds work, and therefore how to deceive them.

It is also typical of Arab propaganda. The stupidity to which we have referred is not individual but social. It reminds one of the fantastic degree of incompetence in modern methods of procedure which the Arab armies displayed in the Palestine war of 1948, and why the Israelis were able to plaster them in spite of numerical and material inferiority. It is the stupidity of a dinosaurian social organism that is socially obsolete.

Nothing could be more ridiculous than to paint these people as Middle Eastern Fu Manchus subtly weaving their oriental webs of intrigue and deceit around us poor unsuspecting fresh-faced upstanding Americans. The truth is exactly the opposite. When it comes to propaganda, these Arab propagandists are babes in our woods – and this is part of the reason they play with some of the animals in our woods rather than with the humans.

But we are not through with this Damascus pamphlet which is being circulated here, since our subject is anti-Semitic propaganda, and not simply the troubles of Arabs in a modern civilization.

The booklet opens with a disclaimer of anti-Semitism and recurs to this disclaimer in many ways; but this does not prevent it from falling into anti-Semitic ruts. It purports to be denouncing only Zionism, which it often and clearly differentiates from the Jews as a whole; but this does not prevent it in other sections from slipping into blatant anti-Jewish expressions.

On page 20, for example, there is a passage which may or may not be quoted from another book called This Sword for Allah, by one Lawrence Griswold, though the passage lacks quote marks. In any case, the following occurs:

... Men who come [to Israel] from the United States with firm pro-Zionist convictions returned a few months later with bitter hatred toward all Jews, excepting perhaps, those whom they personally knew to be fair. One American Jew, a prominent man in his city, told me with a groan, after his visit to Israel: ‘Why, those kikes aren’t even human!’

On page 4, the booklet refers to Protestant clergymen who are sympathetic to Zionism and, in a slip, calls them “Protestant Judaizers” – hardly making sense for people who claim to distinguish so insistently between Zionism and Judaism.

But the longest such passage occurs on pages 62–3, in a section entitled “Zionist Organization in the United States,” which has nothing on the subject of Zionist organization in the U.S. (a vulnerable subject even for Arab propagandists), but rather devotes itself exclusively to a certain obscure article in the Brooklyn Jewish Examiner which dealt with Jewish life in a typical American small town – Lorain, Ohio. The article, apparently, was (for its source) a more or less typical account in glowing terms of a strongly maintained Jewish community life.

The Syrian booklet peppers it with its interpretations:

... A remarkable example of the cohesiveness which has typified the Jew, not only in the U.S. but in every other country where he has settled ... the Jews of Lorain, Ohio have set themselves apart from the American community in which they live ... They stress Jewish culture [stated as an accusation] ... In all this the Jews of Lorain, Ohio follow an age-old tradition. If you go to Cairo, or London, or Buenos Aires, or Casablanca you will find the Jews there practicing the same mode of racial exclusiveness as they do in Lorain. And if you check closely you will observe that the Jew of Cairo, no less than his brethren in London, regards himself as a Jew first and as an English or Egyptian citizen secondly. By the same token American Jews give a necessary allegiance to the U.S. while reserving their first loyalty for ‘Israel.’ That is the pattern which has been followed for centuries; it is the pattern they follow today.

Whatever else may be said about this tirade, it is certainly clear at least that it is a harangue against Jews as such, all Jews, the Jewish people as a whole, and not against “Zionists” alone; and that the stereotypes implied or insinuated are derived from well-known anti-Semitic routines.

Since the Forster-Epstein book Cross-Currents devotes its last part precisely to trying to prove an anti-Semitic strain in Arab propaganda here, as we shall see, it is hard to see how they have overlooked this booklet, since nothing so far published by official Arab authorities in this field equals it in the brashness of its anti-Semitic thrusts. Certainly there is nothing in the ADL book which approaches it as public and documented evidence for the thesis. If the small army of espionage agents and undercover operators, not to speak of agent-provocateurs, employed by the Anti-Defamation League have not been able to turn it up for the reading of Messrs. Forster and Epstein, then I gladly contribute this bit of information: You can get a copy of the incriminating evidence by making a phone call to the Syrian Consulate in Manhattan.

But before we turn our attention to what is in the ADL book, let us now raise the question: what is this Arab “anti-Semitism”? Is it simply Machiavellian guile that the Syrian authors repudiate anti-Semitism on one page – on many pages – and practice it on others?

A favorite Arab gambit, of course, is the well worn bit about how Arabs cannot be anti-Semitic because they are Semites themselves. This remark is not completely pointless, to be sure, because it does illustrate the terminological inexactitude of the term Semitic has any more scientific meaning than the term Aryan. But this is only a bit of curiosa.

What is really involved, as the Arab authors know quite well when need be, is the difference between anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist, for one thing. When we cite derogatory stereotypes against the Jews as a whole, the Jews as such, then whether we call it anti-Semitism or no, it is the same thing, isn’t it?

... Well, is it? There is a question that pops up once we start calling it anti-Jewishness, rather than the more trickily connotative term anti-Semitism.

Take, for example, the sentiment of anti-Britishism, or anti-foreignism in general, in the Middle East, especially backward portions of it. Legitimate nationalist feelings and aspirations have often, of course, taken the British imperialists as their butt, since the crimes of this imperialism are most immediate and best known there. A politically better educated populace, or section of the population, may be able to distinguish sharply between being anti-British-imperialism and being anti-British – between attacking a British imperialist cop, and denouncing British culture – between taking action against an occupation army, and xenophobia. The more advanced a nationalist movement the more likely such distinctions will be made; the more backward the social base of a nationalist movement, the more likely is the element of xenophobia.

But however regrettable it may be, however much one may condemn it, is it “racism,” in the sense connoted by anti-Semitism, when nationalist sentiment spills over to a virulent anti-Britishism, or a bitter anti-Americanism in the course of a struggle against these states?

And is the Arabs’ “anti-Jewishism” of the racist type or of the nationalist type – given the fact that it is the state of Israel itself, and the whole world Zionist movement, that insists heatedly and inflexibly that “the Jews” not only of Israel itself (the immediate enemy seen by the Arabs) but of the whole world are a single nation indivisible?

There is reason to inquire whether or not the charge of anti-Semitism, as applied to the Arabs, is itself an unthinking stereotype, especially when we find that the charge is made in a fashion which has all the attributes of a smear. This is not an easy question, especially since one type can shade into or evoke the other.

Let us approach the ADL book with this question, and go from there to some other cases where the anti-Semitic label has been thrown about for purposes which can only harm the interests of the Jewish people and of the fight against anti-Semitism.

Labor Action, Vol. 20 No. 16, April 16, 1956

The actual butt of this book is far from just being allegedly anti-Semitic Arabs. One of its main victims is the organization known as the American Friends of the Middle East. At various points, stabs are made in the direction of any anti-Zionism. Under the head of what purports to be merely an expose of anti-Semites, there is adroitly woven in a thorough whitewash of Israeli policy on the Arab refugees and other matters; such a whitewash is the authors’ democratic right, of course, but we are speaking of the way it is done; by smearing together, as if inextricably linked, criticisms of Israel policy with anti-Semitic rubbage.

The book, in other words, is a noteworthy example of a tendency on the part of Zionist circles, and their friends, to use and abuse the cry of anti-Semitism as a means of intimidating or discrediting any critics of Zionist or Israeli policy. This is what the present article is concerned with.

But first on the Arab angle:

The Forster-Epstein book presents a certain amount of evidence purporting to link up Arab officials here with notorious American antiSemites like Gerald L.K. Smith, James Madole, Allen Zoll, Merwin K. Hart, Robert Williams, etc. The latter’s names pepper the whole section.

Briefly, the evidence adduced in the book, stripped down to its essential content, would indicate that: these American anti-Semites use Arab charges against Israel as part of their anti-Semitic propaganda; they have pressed Arab officials to accept their help in “fighting Zionism”; Arab officials have had lunch with them and discussed with them what they can do; some of them have toured the Arab countries and have been received in friendly style; certain Arab officials have given them money for publishing articles supporting Arab charges; Arab officials have helped circulate pamphlets on the same subject published by such anti-Semites.

In most cases of a serious charge, the proof rests on the assertion that so-and-so did or said such-and-such in private conversations or at meetings such as could be reported only by undercover agents. The weight of most of the evidence would depend on one’s evaluation of the reliability and nature of the ADL’s undercover agents and sources.

There are almost no distinctions made among Arabs: an Arab is an Arab. An Arab may be quoted without necessarily bothering to mention whether he has any connection with the Arab Information Center here or not; whether he has any connection with others cited; whether he has any connection with any Arab government. Each is quoted as if he were an official representative of the Arab world. At any rate, this is the effect achieved by the method of presentation used in the book, which consists of inter-bureau “memos” of ADL offices, juxtaposed one after the other, with no necessary relationship or explanation.

Anti-Jewish or even pro-Nazi tirades from Arab newspapers in various countries are quoted with no indication whether these quoted newspapers are responsible spokesmen for any significant Arab viewpoint, or which viewpoint, or what they are. This looks like the other side of the coin of the Arab office’s habit of quoting Israeli papers as if they were all identical, even when one of them is Kol Ha’am, the Israeli Communist Party organ.

This will have to do for the “Arab” part of this book’s target; for we repeat it is not this aspect that we are most interested in at this point.

Students in the art of propaganda-slanting would do well to study the methods of Forster and Epstein.

The main method is to interweave, juxtapose, and sandwich-together the activities and ideas of known anti-Semites with all other activities and ideas which the authors are interested in discrediting. We have already mentioned that the literary method – a series of compiled office “memos” – allows for complete free-wheeling in the interweaving process; there is no necessary continuity between successive memos, and often there isn’t any relation.

Thus, at one moment the reader will be reading some hair-raising statement quoted from (say) Allan Zoll in vilification of Jews; in the next paragraph he will be reminded of the Arab demand that Israel take back refugees; somewhere along, there will be thrown in some link between anti-Semite and the Arabs – say, a note that so-and-so came to lunch. If we look at the “filling” of the “sandwiching” process, it turns out in many cases to be a number of criticisms of Israeli policy which are common among all kinds of critics of Israel, including Jewish critics, and which have nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism.

This, as a matter of fact, is systematically done in the introduction to the whole section. This introduction is not put together in the form of “memos.” It is written out as a setting of the stage for the “memos.”

Here, in brief, as their introduction to a study of anti-Semitism, Forster-Epstein go through Arab charges against Israel. Then the connection is made:

“Whatever the themes of Arab propaganda may be, one of its goals in this country is precisely similar to that of every dyed-in-the-wool American anti-Semite ... This calculation [by the Arabs] determines the goal of their propaganda here, and that goal is also the over-all aim of the professional American anti-Semite, whatever his motivations: it is the utter destruction of Jewish prestige in America.”

This – and it is the heart of the book’s discussion – seems quite similar to the well-known Stalinist proof that Trotskyists are fascists: for do they not share the fascist’s goal of discrediting the Socialist Fatherland?

Here is another important Forster-Epstein connection: “When Arab sources inspire a propaganda argument in their continuing anti-Jewish campaign, its theme immediately becomes a regular part of our native bigots’ stock in trade.”

Now Forster-Epstein are not here referring to themes like the “Elders of Zion” fable. Not at all. They immediately list two. Both are charges not against “the Jews” but against (a) Israel, and (b) Zionists. Both are criticisms that have been made plentifully by responsible, liberal, Jewish and pro-Jewish critics of Israel and Zionism. Much can be said about them. But this book is interested only in weaving them in as Arab and anti-Semitic “lies.”

This procedure is the typical sort of thing about which we are concerned. It colors the character of the whole book.

In a subsequent disclaimer of this very method, the authors protest that it would be “inaccurate to equate Arab representatives with native hate-mongers.” This sounds very fair. They are not interested in “equating.” They are intent upon the effective “amalgam,” the tie-in, in a context where charges against Zionist and Israeli policy are indignantly mentioned and indignantly rejected as tainted with the anti-Semitic amalgam.

In this context the authors permit themselves to write that those Palestinian Arabs who did not flee during the war “have retained their property” and “enjoy equal rights” with no qualifications. This assertion has little resemblance to the far more complicated and much less pleasant truth.

With regard to the method of equating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, there is an especially simple example on page 361; a memo (“Middle Eastern Correspondent to Research”) quotes the Cairo radio – “verbatim,” it emphasizes, so as to imply that here is something damning. The entire quote is as follows:

The information office which was opened several days ago by the Arab countries in New York is the first step ... There is no doubt that Zionist propaganda and influence in the United States is strong. The new Arab bureau in New York should expose all Zionist plots and propaganda to the American people. We must not squander any more time in agreeing on a policy for that bureau.

That’s absolutely all. No comment, as often. Presumably some revelation has been communicated. It is the memo before and after which have something to do with anti-Semitism. There is no connection at all among them, except that they are printed one after the other. And the only reason we chose this particular example to quote is that it is short.

As a mirror-image of the method used by the anti-Semites themselves, the authors play fast and loose with the equation: Zionists = Jews. Compare the following two passes, for example.

On page 328, a “memo” says Rahim of the Arab office has told friends that “Most Americans do not distinguish between Zionists and Jews,”and this fact has to be carefully exploited. On page 369 a “memo” quotes from a “directive” to students put out by the Arab office itself. It is a remarkable memo. There was obviously absolutely nothing in this “directive” that has the remotest appearance of anti-Semitism. Yet a page and a half is spent on it. Among other things, the following sinister note is found:

This little gem of propaganda by omission [says the memo, apparently cognizant of the fact that there is nothing really quotable] is all the more significant in that the students are also directed: “... the most important point is to stress the difference between Jews and Zionists.”

That’s all on this!

The “memo” was an undercover report on what Rahim was supposed to have told friends. It is, if anything, refuted by the “directive” which the same Rahim’s office puts out semi-publicly. Both are equally evidence of some sinister intention.

Now, of course, as everyone knows, it is a basic tenet of Zionist education and ideology precisely to identify Zionism and Jewry. Zionists always speak in the name of “the Jews.” If anti-Semites, for their own purposes, systematically refuse to distinguish between Zionists and Jews, it is equally true that Zionists, for quite contrary purposes, systematically do likewise. There is scarcely a paper or publication in the land which does not headline actions by the government of Israel as having been taken by the “Jews.”

In fact, the only people who systematically insist on distinguishing between Zionists and “The Jews” are anti-Zionists.

Yet, in a system of doublethink which has few parallels outside the Stalinist world, Zionists frequently denounce criticisms of Zionist as being “anti-Semitic” as such.

Take, for another example, the smear campaign against the organization called American Friends of the Middle East, headed by Dorothy Thompson, Garland Evans Hopkins, and including many outstanding and prominent American figures. References to and attacks on it and on Hopkins take up pages and pages in Cross-Currents. There is not the slightest evidence of anti-Semitism on the part of this organization that is adduced in the book, even by undercover “memos.” Yet, I am willing to bet a week’s salary that many a reader of the book will come away with the conviction that the AFME has been implicated in anti-Semitism. “Implicated” is indeed the world: it has been done solely by the Forster-Epstein interweaving method of innuendo.

The case of the AFME is typical of a broader field.

As this writer interprets the politics of the AFME people, they represent that school of thought in American policy-thinking which believes that U.S. imperialist interests lie in cultivating the goodwill of the Arab states rather than Israel. This view represents the opposite of the often-heard Zionist and pro-Israel argument that American imperialist interests lie in an alliance with the “democratic bastion in the Middle East,” Israel.

In this sense the AFME and its similars are “pro-Arab,” i.e., within the framework of American imperialism.

The Zionists and their spokesmen are reluctant to make this type of analysis. The very last thing they want to say about this school of American “patriotic” thought is that is motivated by such considerations. They often like to claim a monopoly on “respectable” motives for themselves.

Hence the constant, unremitting campaign of these propagandists to paint their opponents as tainted, not simply with an objectionable view of American imperialism’s best interests, but with something dirty and discreditable: anti-Semitism.

This is what is behind the large role played by the AFME in the pages of Cross-Currents.

Only a few weeks ago, in the pages of the N.Y. Post, the long-time Zionist Max Lerner published one of the most disreputable smears printed anywhere about Garland Hopkins and anti-Semitism. When Hopkins made a defensive reply, Lerner came back with a rejoinder which in virtually so many words argued flatly that anyone who criticizes Zionism is going in for anti-Semitism, for don’t we know that anti-Semites slyly use “Zionism” as a cover-word for the Jews ...?

It is usually done more subtly than in Lerner’s disgraceful way.

It is under this head also that one must understand the wide-spread insinuations and charges that old reactionary, ex-Secretary James Forrestal, was an anti-Semite, as “revealed” in his published Diaries. Forrestal was “merely” a prime example of a thorough American imperialist hard-headedly trying to choose allies for the “American Century.”

The same thing goes for the late Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin under the last British Labor government, and his “reputation” for anti-Semitism. Bevin’s policy in the twilight of the Palestine Mandate was (again, in this writer’s opinion) one of the most vicious and malevolent in the evil history of British colonialism, but there is not a shred of evidence that it had anything to do with anti-Semitism, whereas it clearly flowed from the line taken by British imperialism in the period.

One of the most prominent contemporary victims of the anti-Semitic smear has been Professor Arnold Toynbee, since the appearance of the eighth volume of his Study of History. Toynbee very forcibly takes the side of Arab rights as against Zionism. It is perhaps needless to say that I do not agree with much that he writes on this subject or on anything else; but that has nothing to do with the loud charges of anti-Semitism that have been made against him for his stand.

The anti-Semitic smear has been increasingly used by pro-Zionist propagandists and apologists as a substitute for political argumentation and as a means of evading an accounting of their own positions.

Cross-Currents does this, on a booksize scale now.

It works. It intimidates, it discredits. It takes a fair amount of courage even to stick your neck out in front of the charge, which you know will not be slow in coming, with powerful amplification behind it. The subject is a tender one. The field is sensitive. Why bother?

However, it not only “works,” but is being overworked. It is bound sooner or later to discredit itself, but this means also discrediting the cry of anti-Semitism. Even while it “works,” it does not help the cause of a real fight against anti-Semitism.

It is not the interests of the Jews as a group that are promoted by this Zionist method. It is time that more democratic voices were raised to warn against it.

Last updated on 27 August 2020