One ignored lesson of the holocaust!
Written in 1999 by Jawad Abbassi
Note: As it is not an academic paper, I have not referenced sources for the historical information in this paper. However, the information presented is indeed common knowledge that it can be easily corroborated by a multitude of academic references.
According to reviewers, Anne Frank’s diary, and the Frank’s story as a whole, induce a great level of emotions in people. By detailing the life of a Jewish family, trapped in Nazi occupied Germany and later exterminated by the Nazi death machine, the story focuses attention on the suffering of individuals as opposed to a mass of “six million”. People sympathize more with individuals with faces than with a faceless great mass of people. Hence, Anne Frank’s powerful effect. The evil chapter of the Holocaust has made it terrifyingly clear that unchecked human prejudices can culminate in the most heinous of crimes. Bettelhiem tried to shed a light on another ignored lesson of the holocaust stemming from Anne Frank’s story for which he gave other parallels. Taking Bethlehem lead, I would like to explore another forgetten, or maybe even purposefully hidden, lesson of the holocaust. The ignored lesson is the uneasy relation between Zionism, the secular Jewish nationalist movement, and anti-Semitism. This ignored lesson, once truly learned, will expose the Zionist failure, despite its propaganda to the contrary.
In the 19th century, the people of the Jewish faith were largely divided into three major groups corresponding to three different geopolitical areas: The Sephardim and Mizrahim in the East, the Ashkanizm in Eastern Europe and the Ashkanizm in Western Europe. Sephardim is Hebrew for Spanish, while Mizrhai is also Hebrew for “people of the neighborhood”. The Sephardim were essentially the Jewish people that evacuated Andalucia alongside the Arab/Berber Moors in the years following the Spanish Catholic re-conquest of 1492. The word is generally used for the Jewish people whose roots are in the Arabic North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The Mizrahi are the Jewish people whose roots are in the Eastern Arabic countries of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, etc. The Sephardim and Mizrahi Jewish communities spoke Arabic and in - matter of social norms – were almost identical to the other religious groups in the Arab world be they the Sunni Moslem majority, or the Arab Christian communities. Major Arab cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, had substantial Jewish communities living alongside the larger Moslem and Christian communities.
In the 19th century, the Jewish communities in Western Europe were citizens of their respective countries. In England they spoke English and were British citizens, in the Netherlands they spoke Dutch, in Germany German, and so on. While religiously different from the majority, the Jewish people in Western Europe were for the most part well assimilated into the larger society. In England for example, they held senior positions in the government and parliament.
In contrast with the two other major groups, the Jewish people in Eastern Europe were not assimilated. The Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, whose numbers increased through conversion of the Slavic Khazar tribes around the 10th century, spoke their own distinct language. Yiddish, a mixture of Germanic and Hebrew, was the lingua franca of the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe’s Jews were barred from many professions and lived in secluded communities that were subject to occasional violent outbursts in the form of pogroms.
For the Jewish people in Eastern Europe life was far from comfortable and a remedy of the situation was in dire need. Conflicting ideologies proposed their own remedies for the young Jewish people disenchanted with their situation: Communism was one ideology that attracted many Jewish young hearts and minds. The success of the communist movement in attracting Eastern European Jewish men and women was evident by the disproportionate representation of Jews in the ranks of the communist movement at the time. On the opposing extreme of communism was Zionism, a secular nationalist socialist movement that advocated the establishment of a democratic Jewish homeland in the biblical land of Israel to gather the majority, if not all, the world’s Jews. Theodora Herzel was the founder of Zionism whose early leaders came from Poland, Russia and other eastern European countries. The Zionist movement revived the Hebrew language and actively started the efforts to migrate large numbers of Jews into the Ottoman-controlled, Arab populated Palestine.
The Jewish leaderships in Western Europe, assimilated and successfully capitalist, did not much appreciate the communist movement. In sympathy to their less fortunate co-religionists in Eastern Europe, many Jewish leaders in Western Europe actively supported the Zionist cause. One big example is the lobbying by Lord Hamreshold, a British Jew, of the British government to support the Zionist cause. This resulted in the British "Balfour declaration" in 1917 which promised British help in facilitating European Jewish immigration into Palestine, which had fell under British rule during the course of World War I. Between 1917 and 1939, Britain actively supported and facilitated the Jewish immigration - mainly Eastern European- to Palestine. This increased the percentage of Jewish people of the population of Palestine from less than 2% at the turn of the century to more than 25% after 1939.
Zionism’s “immigration fuel” was Europe’s anti-Semitism. Almost every pogrom in Eastern Europe produced another wave of immigration to Palestine. Zionism was not the prevailing ideology amongst the Jewish people where communism was a strong competitor for support. The promise of the communists of a discrimination free Europe and its appeal to young Jews alarmed the Zionists who saw that as detrimental to its immigration plans.
Zionism and Anti-Semitism therefore became unconsciously allied: Both forces strove to evacuate Europe from its Jewish people. The Zionists, just like the Anti Semites, rejected the possibility that civil societies and assimilation were a viable option for the Jewish people in Europe. Both forces advocated that the Jews were so different from the rest of the European population that they could not be European citizens. In a sense, neither Zionism nor Anti-Semitism could exist without the presence of the other. The two forces , out of different reasons, advocated the same message regarding Europe and its Jews. Zionism and Anti-Semitism perpetuated each other in Europe: The Zionists pointed to Anti-Semitism as a compelling reason for immigration to Palestine. At the same time, the Anti-Semites pointed to the Zionist goal of a Jewish state in Palestine as proof that the Jews cannot and should not be assimilated.
So unfortunate was this strange, unconscious alliance between Zionism and Anti-Semitism, that it at one point it finally became a conscious alliance for a brief period. Following the Nazi rise in Germany in the 1930s and prior to the start of World War II, the Jewish Agency (Zionism’s leading organization) actually had the Havaarah (Hebrew for return) deal with Hitler. Under the agreement, which lasted for few years in the 1930s, Hitler and the Jewish agency agreed on a plan to convince Germany’s Jewish population to immigrate to Palestine. The Havaraah entailed allowing the immigrating Jews to leave with part of their possessions with the Jewish agency arranging for transferring the assets to Palestine. The Havaarah was not successful, as the bulk of Germany’s Jews remained behind. This was mainly due to the fact that no one in the 1930s, could deem as possible the savagery of the Holocaust that would follow in less than 10 years. Havaraah is so daunting an episode in the Zionist’s movement history that is goes unmentioned and unnoticed.
The establishment of the State of Israel was not born out of the Holocaust, but was in the Zionist agenda more than 60 years before the Holocaust. What the Holocaust, and Hitter’s madness, achieved was rallying the global support for the Zionist movement and facilitating the establishment of the state of Israel. Hitler’s madness, and Europe’s anti-Semitism at large, would result in the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from 450 Palestinian villages and towns in 1948. Towns that the Zionist movement would use for absorbing Jewish survivors of the Holocaust . The same towns that the Zionists would later obliterate and deny their Arab owners–now numbering more than 4 million- the right to return or compensation.
The bitterness of the Arab Zionist war caused another tragedy, the poisoning of the relations between the Arabic speaking Jews in the Arab world and the larger population. Backward and reactionary Arab regimes, alongside Zionist instigators, forced the immigration of the Arab Jews into Israel, shamelessly ending hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence. The bulk of Arabic speaking Jews left their countries to the state of Israel in the 1950s. While Jewish remnants remain to this date in Arabic countries, the Zionist-Arab wars effectively reduced their presence to a marginal one at best.
So tragic was the Holocaust that people tend to speak of the Zionist success that was a sure reply to the Holocaust. The proposed success is the establishment of the strong, US backed and nuclear-weapons-equipped, state of Israel. What is wrong here is that Zionism’s success, or failure, are measured solely by how strong of a reply it offered to the Holocaust and the European-inflicted sufferings of the Jewish people. Instead, Zionism should be measured against its own goals to see whether it is truly a success or failure. When this is objectively done, Zionism emerges as a failure.
As mentioned earlier the Zionist goals were the establishment of a Jewish State on the Historical Land of Israel (Eretz Israel) that will be democratic and free, with the majority of the Jewish people living in it. This state of Israel was to be the ultimate protector and haven for the Jews the world over. Israeli political analysts already point out two failures of Zionism: That the majority of the Jews continue to live outside Israel and that, for a good deal of its 50 years history, it was the Jews abroad that helped and protected Israel, not the other way around.
These two failings are quite obvious, yet by focusing on them, other more substantial failings of Zionism go unnoticed. These failings are concerned with the Zionist objective of a (1) Democratic (2) Jewish State on (3) “Eretz Israel”.
As things stand today, Israel cannot be the three, nor will it ever be able to be the three:
For Israel to be in charge of the biblical “Eretz Israel” it must annex the West Bank. Yet if it annexed the West Bank, the addition of the West Bank’s two million Arab Palestinians –currently living under Israeli occupation but deprived of citizenship rights- will put an end to the “Jewishness” of the state. To maintain the status quo of occupation means that Israel is depriving the Palestinians in the West Bank from citizenship and at the same time from the right of independence and self-determination. A far cry from any democratic and free ideals that the Zionist “founding fathers” had in mind for Israel. Israel can be democratic and Jewish, but it will not be in control of Eretz Israel. It can be Jewish and in control of Eretz Israel, but then it will not be democratic. Or it can be in control of Eretz Israel and Democratic but then it will cease to be Jewish.
Judged against its own objectives, Zionism is a failure. Israel has to choose where, not if, Zionism will fail. Will Zionism fail the test of democracy through an Israel that continues to be an apartheid state that actively discriminates against the Arab Israelis and subjugates the Palestinians? Or will Israel choose the more tolerable failure of Zionism by handing back the occupied West Bank to its Arab Palestinian owners. Finally, will Israel choose the most just of Zionism’s failures: A return of the Palestinian refugees to a BI-National democratic state that will, almost definitely, be more Arab than Jewish?
The neglect to point out the failure of Zionism, because of the savagery of Anti-Semitism, is a big and ignored lesson from the Holocaust. Discrimination cannot be fought by discrimination. Two wrongs cannot ,and will not, make a right.