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Response to Review of Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left

Although Stan Nadel largely agrees with my principal arguments, we differ on how much of the far left’s denunciation of Zionism is antisemitic.

Nadel claims that I do not connect the Bolshevik critique of Zionism in the Soviet Union during the 1920s to antisemitism. He implies that it was instead just ‘part of an attempt to suppress all non-Bolshevik ideologies’, although he finds convincing my analysis of the Soviet prohibition of the Hebrew language as having ‘overtones of Christian supersessionism’. Jews from the 1920s, however, were singled out for much greater persecution than other Soviet nationalities. The Soviets from that decade onward deported large numbers of Zionists to remote forced labor camps, where they toiled under miserable conditions. Many of these Jews died in the camps, or on the way to them.

The Soviet government in the 1920s called Zionism, a movement significantly influenced by socialism, a ‘monstrous force’, a ‘hydra’ allied to imperialism and reaction. It did not depict the national movements of other Soviet ethnic groups as extremely menacing or demonic. In the early 1920s the Soviet government charged that American Zionists provided financial backing for the Whites in the Russian Civil War, who murdered unprecedented numbers of Jews in pogroms. This anticipated the later far left accusation that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Soviets in 1920 also claimed that the staunchly anti-Zionist Henry Morgenthau was a Zionist agent dispatched to Poland to persuade Jews there to submit to ‘imperialist’ rule. The Soviet accusation against Morgenthau foreshadowed later Communist fantasies about Zionists joining antisemitic reactionaries in sinister conspiracies to subjugate vast populations, as in Czechoslovakia’s Slansky trial in 1952. The demonic nature of such conspiracies can be associated with a recurring antisemitic image of Jews in Christian theology, dating back to the gospels. Czechoslovakia’s Communist government similarly identified the eleven Jewish defendants in the Slansky trial, all of them anti-Zionist, as Zionist.

The Bolshevik charge that 80,000 soldiers of the Jewish Legion, the first Jewish army created since the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE, had pledged to support Entente forces fighting the Red army in Russia was profoundly antisemitic. It drew on the longstanding antisemitic charge of inordinate Jewish power, dating to the Christian bible’s deicide charge. The figure of 80,000 was ridiculously exaggerated.

The far left during the 1920s drew on traditional Christian theological antisemitic concepts to disparage Zionism. It portrayed Zionists as motivated by financial lust, a desire to exploit Palestine’s economic resources, a charge also made by the far right. During the 1929 Arab pogroms against the Jews of Palestine, the American Communist Party, following the Soviet line, described Palestine’s Zionists as murderers and robbers. The American Communist press even ran a headline ‘The Blood is on Your Hands, Zionists’, that could have been taken straight from the gospel of Matthew. Its cartoons also invoked the Christian deicide accusation. One, for example, showed a cross with an enormous Star of David on top of the vertical bar and the words ‘For Arabs’ on the horizontal bar.

The Soviet government was determined to obliterate Hebrew. It feared that Hebrew would stimulate Jewish national consciousness and encourage a commitment to Judaism. Joshua Kunitz, one of the American Communist Party’s leading authorities on Jewish issues, characterized only Hebrew among the languages of Soviet nationalities as ‘dangerous’. The Bolsheviks, who considered Jewish culture reactionary, reserved a special contempt for Hebrew. This is striking because, as some American Communists acknowledged after the Holocaust, the concepts of human liberation were first expressed in Hebrew.

Nadel states that I am ‘unable to resist outlining the anti-Ally, anti-intervention policies of the Communists’ during the period of the Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany from August 1939 to June 1941 ‘even when they have nothing to do with antisemitism’. In fact, everything about the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact had to do with antisemitism because the Soviets knowingly were helping the Nazis build up their war machine and economy and make it possible for them to carry on their war against the Jews. Note that the Stalin regime welcomed Nazi Germany’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to the Soviet Union for the signing of the pact by hoisting swastika flags and playing the Nazi anthem, the viciously antisemitic Horst Wessel song. As part of the pact they also turned over to the Gestapo anti-Nazi activists who had taken refuge in the Soviet Union, many of them Jewish. German soldiers invading Poland rode in trains on which were painted crude antisemitic caricatures of Jews. They proceeded to slaughter many Jews as they took possession of Polish territory. During the period of the Pact Communists across the world unleashed a massive propaganda campaign that disparaged the Allied war effort against Germany. Communist propaganda in the United States was designed to keep this country from coming to Britain’s aid, either by sending necessary supplies or intervening militarily. Communists during this period made a concerted effort to trivialize antisemitism. Had Britain fallen to the German armed forces in 1940, the Nazis would have murdered millions more Jews. Communist policy during the period of the Pact showed an appalling insensitivity to the plight of European Jewry and was definitely antisemitic.

If Nadel believes that a significant section of the recent American far left does not mix anti-Zionism with antisemitism he should identify it. Most of the American far left demonizes Israel by using terms such as monstrous, criminal, genocidal, apartheid and/or Nazi to describe it. Unlike the Communist Party during the late 1940s, the recent far left makes no mention of Arab antisemitism, and has devoted no attention to the Arab states’ near-total expulsion of Jews, accompanied by the destruction of their centuries-old communities, one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish history.

Nadel minimizes how often far left critiques of Zionism ‘based on class’ are suffused with antisemitism. Since Karl Marx’s time, the far left has employed Christian theological and economic antisemitic stereotypes to denigrate Jews and Judaism. Like Christian theologians who portrayed the Temple as permeated with money-changing, the far left repeatedly depicted the Jews as unscrupulous petty traders. Marx himself wrote that ‘money is the jealous God of Israel, before whom no other god may exist’. The far left traditionally viewed Jewish culture as deformed by Jews’ concentration in petty bourgeois occupations. Echoing the hoary Christian characterization of the Jewish God, the far left depicted the Jews as hucksters, vengeful and lacking in compassion.

The American Communist Party journal Political Affairs provides an example of the far left’s frequent mixing of Marxist class analysis with antisemitism. In 1953 it published an article that denounced the formerly Communist Jewish leaders of New York’s largely Jewish Distributive, Processing, and Office Workers union, District 65, which continued to strongly back Israel after the party had switched to a militant anti-Israel line. The union represented workers in the dry goods trade. In a classically antisemitic class-based critique, Political Affairs described employers in this heavily Jewish industry as engaged in shady practices and black marketing, charges antisemites had leveled at Jews for centuries. Zionism called on workers to join their employers in raising funds for Israel and for Jewish charities. The journal emphasized that this encouraged Jewish workers to embrace Jewish employers’ petty bourgeois outlook, which drove them to ‘rook whomever you can for as much as you can’.