Zionism and antisemitism are not such strange bedfellows

Zionism, the underlying ideology of the state of Israel, claims to be the Jewish equivalent of Black Lives Matter, and an expression of national self-determination. Israel, we are told, provides a sanctuary for the Jewish people from the ravages of antisemitism. These claims are without foundation – Zionist leaders have a long history of seeking antisemitic allies. Antisemites in Europe have long argued that Jews are a distinct and unassimilable racial minority – a position accepted by Zionism.

The charge of antisemitism is thrown at the supporters of the Palestinian cause by Zionist organisations. If the Palestinians can be portrayed as motivated by irrational bigotry, then their case for self-determination can be easily dismissed. This accusation is obscene and perverse, given that the founders of political Zionism made clear that their platform depends upon the support of European antisemitism. Theodore Herzl, writing in his seminal pamphlet The Jewish State, explicitly says that European antisemitic powers will be the allies of the Zionist project in Palestine.

Antisemitism is in fact a white European creation – an ideology which views the presence of European Jews as a ‘problem’ to be solved. It is not surprising that European Christendom has a long history of persecuting and expelling historical Jewish populations. However, it is with the rise of 19th century European nationalism that provided a racialist basis for the redefinition of antisemitism from its original religious foundations.

It was the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on a strict reading of the Bible, that gave rise to the identification of European Jewry with descent from the biblical ancient Hebrews. This alleged historical continuity enabled the Zionist movement to utilise a particular millenarian theology to disguise the colonisation of Palestine as a biblically-sanctioned ‘repatriation’ of the Jewish people. In fact, European Jews are not the direct genetic descendants, over thousands of years, of the biblical Hebrews, but rather, European converts.

In the 19th century, the linguistic category Semitic – denoting a group of languages – became transformed into a racial classification. European antisemitic thinkers, from Houston Stewart Chamberlain to Wilhelm Marr, popularised racist ideas, dividing the white ‘Aryan’ race from the ‘Semitic’ Jews. Antisemitism became an indispensable tool for the construction of white supremacy.

European Jews reacted with furious opposition to the rise of racialist thinking – not so the Zionist movement. Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau and Zionist proponents accepted that Jews were a biologically distinct and unassimilable ‘race’ living in the midst of Christian Europe. Their solution was to build a separate ethnonationalist state in Palestine. Herzl, writing in his diaries, stated that:

The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.

The Zionist movement sought the cooperation of Europe’s antisemitic governments, finally securing the agreement of Imperial Britain to provide a state in Palestine. In 1920, as the British acquired the mandate to govern Palestine, the first military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, made clear Britain’s intentions to create a loyal Jewish Ulster in Palestine.

As Zionist colonisation proceeded in Palestine, there was one particular antisemitic European government that looked favourably upon Zionism – Nazi Germany. Since the 1933 assumption of power by the Nazis in Germany, the one German Jewish organisation that actively sought an accommodation with the Nazi regime was the Zionist federation. In 1935, when the Nuremberg laws were passed preventing Aryans and Jews from intermarriage, German Jewish anti-Zionist groups opposed those laws – but the Zionist federation welcomed them.

While Hitler himself was never a committed Zionist, the Nazi leadership did see a marriage of convenience with Zionism as a practical implementation of their antisemitism – ridding Europe of its Jews and transferring them to Palestine. In the 1930s, the Nazis sent envoys to Palestine to solidify connections with the Zionist settlers there. One of those delegates was none other than SS officer Adolf Eichmann, who spoke glowingly about the Zionist effort to construct a state in Palestine.

With the end of World War 2, the full horrors of the genocide of the European Jews was revealed to the international community. The logical endpoint of European antisemitism was on trial at Nuremberg. However, the end of the world war meant the demolition of the Nazi regime, it did not mean the end of antisemitism. In Europe today, ultranationalist and far right antisemitic parties are among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Israeli state.

Hungary’s PM Victor Orban, known for his praise of Hungary’s antisemitic wartime dictatorship of Admiral Horthy, is a strong proponent of cooperation with Tel Aviv. It is not only the European antisemitic far right that upholds Israel as a model ethnostate worth emulating; Brazil’s ultrarightist President, Jair Bolsonaro, speaks of the Israeli state in gushing terms, and has rejected the demands of the Palestinians.

European antisemitism, a form of racism, has existed symbiotically with Zionism. The latter cannot proceed without the active cooperative of the former. The ideological and practical alliance of Zionism with antisemitism can no longer be ignored. The Palestinians are paying the price, with the loss of their ancestral homeland, for the crimes of European antisemitism. It is time to repudiate this settler-colonial Ulster in Palestine.

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