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Zionism In The Age Of The Dictators

A Reappraisal by Lenni Brenner (1983)


  1. Zionism and Anti-Semitism Prior to the Holocaust
  2. Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil): The Roots of Racist Zionism
  3. German Zionism and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic
  4. Zionism and Italian Fascism, 1922-1933
  5. German Zionism Offers to Collaborate with Nazism
  6. The Jewish Anti-Nazi Boycott and the Zionist-Nazi Trade Agreement
  7. Hitler Looks at Zionism
  8. Palestine – The Arabs, Zionists, British and Nazis
  9. The World Jewish Congress
  10. Zionist-Revisionism and Italian Fascism
  11. Revisionism and Nazism
  12. Georg Kareski, Hitler's Zionist Quisling Before Quisling
  13. Choosing the Chosen People – The Doctrine of “Zionist Cruelty”
  14. The World Zionist Organisation and Italian Fascism, 1933-1937
  15. Austria and the “Gentile Friends of Zionism”
  16. The Jewish Parties of Eastern Europe
  17. Spain – The Nazis Fight, the Zionists Do Not
  18. Zionism's Failure to Fight Nazism in the Liberal Democracies
  19. Zionism and the Japanese East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
  20. Poland, 1918-1939
  21. Zionism in Holocaust Poland
  22. Zionist Collusion with the Polish Government-in-Exile
  23. Illegal Immigration
  24. The Wartime Failure to Rescue
  25. Hungary, the Crime Within a Crime
  26. The Stern Gang

Stern Gang: Proposal of Irgun Zvai Leumi
Concerning the Solution of the Jewish Question
and Participation in the War on the Side of Germany (1941)

(The German original)

Glossary of Jewish and Zionist Organisations


In lieu of a new introduction

Contradiction, Collusion and Controversy

Edward Mortimer
The Times (London), February 11, 1984

Who told a Berlin audience in March 1912 that “each country can absorb only a limited number of Jews, if she doesn’t want disorders in her stomach. Germany already has too many Jews”?

No, not Adolf Hitler but Chaim_Weizmann, later president of the World Zionist Organization and later still the first President of the state of Israel.

And where might you find the following assertion, originally composed in 1917 but republished as late as 1936: “The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligation, knows no order nor discipline”?

Not in Der StŁrmer but in the organ of the Zionist youth organization, Hashomer Hatzair.

As the above quoted statement reveals, Zionism itself encouraged and exploited self-hatred in the Diaspora. It started from the assumption that anti-Semitism was inevitable and even in a sense justified so long as Jews were outside the land of Israel.

It is true that only an extreme lunatic fringe of Zionism [i.e. Lehi or The Stern Gang] went so far as to offer to join the war on Germany’s side in 1941, in the hope of establishing “the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a treaty with the German Reich”. Unfortunately this was the group which the present Prime Minister of Israel [i.e. Yitzhak Shamir] chose to join.

That fact gives an extra edge of topicality to what would in any case be a highly controversial study of the Zionist record in the heyday of European fascism by Lenni Brenner, an American Trotskyist writer who happens also to be Jewish. It is short (250 pages), crisp and carefully documented. Mr Brenner is able to cite numerous cases where Zionists collaborated with anti-Semitic regimes, including Hitler’s; he is careful also to put on record the opposition to such policies within the Zionist movement.

In retrospect these activities have been defended as a distasteful but necessary expedient to save Jewish lives. But Brenner shows that most of the time this aim was secondary. The Zionist leaders wanted to help young, skilled and able-bodied Jews to emigrate to Palestine. They were never in the forefront of the struggle against fascism in Europe.

That in no way absolves the wartime Allies for their callous refusal to make any serious effort to save European Jewry. As Brenner says, “Britain must be condemned for abandoning the Jews of Europe”; but, “it is not for the Zionists to do it.”


Why another book on the Second World War, which is probably the most written about subject in human history? Why another book on the Holocaust, which has been movingly described by many survivors and scholars? As a general subject, the age of the dictators, the world war, and the Holocaust have indeed been covered – but has the interaction between Zionism and Fascism and Nazism been adequately explored? And if not, why not?

The answer is quite simple. Different aspects of the general subject have been dealt with, but there is no equivalent of the present work, one that attempts to present an overview of the movement's world activities during that epoch. Of course, that is not an accident, but rather a sign that there is much that is politically embarrassing to be found in that record.

Dealing with the issues brings difficult problems, one of the most difficult arising out of the emotions evoked by the Holocaust. Can there by any doubt that many of the United Nations delegates who voted for the creation of an Israeli state, in 1947, were motivated by a desire to somehow compensate the surviving Jews for the Holocaust? They, and many of Israel’s other well-wishers, cathected the state with the powerful human feelings they had toward the victims of Hitler’s monstrous crimes. But therein was their error: they based their support for Israel and Zionism on what Hitler had done to the Jews, rather than on what the Zionists had done for the Jews. To say that such an approach is intellectually and politically impermissable does not denigrate the deep feelings produced by the Holocaust.

Zionism, however, is an ideology, and its chronicles are to be examined with the same critical eye that readers should bring to the history of any political tendency. Zionism is not now, nor was it ever, co-extensive with either Judaism or the Jewish people. The vast majority of Hitler’s Jewish victims were not Zionists. It is equally true, as readers are invited to see for themselves, that the majority of the Jews of Poland, in particular, had repudiated Zionism on the eve of the Holocaust, that they abhored the politics of Menachem Begin, in September 1939, one of the leaders of the self-styled “Zionist-Revisionist” movement in the Polish capital. As an anti-Zionist Jew, the author is inured to the charge that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism and “Jewish self-hatred”.

It is scarcely necessary to add that all attempts to equate Jews and Zionists, and therefore to attack Jews as such, are criminal, and are to be sternly repelled. There cannot be even the slightest confusion between the struggle against Zionism and hostility to either Jews or Judaism. Zionism thrives on the fears that Jews have of another Holocaust. The Palestinian people are deeply appreciative of the firm support given them by progressive Jews, whether religious – as with Mrs Ruth Blau, Elmer Berger, Moshe Menuhin, or Israel Shahak – or atheist – as with Felicia Langer and Lea Tsemel and others on the left. Neither nationality nor theology nor social theory can, in any way, be allowed to become a stumbling block before the feet of those Jews, in Israel or elsewhere, who are determined to walk with the Palestinian people against injustice and racism. It can be said, with scientific certainty, that, without the unbreakable unity of Arab and Jewish progressives, victory over Zionism is not merely difficult, it is impossible.

Unless this book were to become an encyclopaedia, the material had necessarily to be selected, with all due care, so that a rounded picture might come forth. It is inevitable that the scholars of the several subjects dealt with will complain that not enough attention had been devoted to their particular specialties. And they will be correct, to be sure; whole books have been written on particular facets of the broader problems dealt with herein, and the reader is invited to delve further into the sources cited in the footnotes. An additional difficulty arises out of the fact that so much of the original material is in a host of languages that few readers are likely to know. Therefore, wherever possible, English sources and translations are cited, thus giving sceptical readers a genuine opportunity to verify the research apparatus relied upon.

As readers are committed to discovering by reading this book, the consequences of Zionist ideology deserve study and exposure. That is what is attempted here. As an unabashed anti-Zionist, I clearly conclude that Zionism is wholly incorrect; but that is my conclusion drawn from the evidence. The conclusions are, in short, my own. As for the persuasiveness of the arguments used in arriving at them, readers are invited to judge for themselves.

  1. Zionism and Anti-Semitism
    Prior to the Holocaust

From the French Revolution to the unification of Germany and Italy it appeared that the future foretold the continuing emancipation of Jewry in the wake of the further development of capitalism and its liberal and modernist values. Even the Russian pogroms of the 1880s could be seen as the last gasp of a dying feudal past, rather than a harbinger of things to come. Yet by 1896, when Theodor Herzl published his Jewish State, such an optimistic scenario could no longer be realistically envisioned. In 1895 he personally had seen the Parisian mob howling for the death of Dreyfus. That same year he heard the wild cheers of middle-class Vienna as they greeted the anti-Semitic Karl Lueger after he had swept the election for Buergermeister (i.e. mayor).

Born amidst a wave of defeats for the Jews, not only in backward Russia, but in the very centres of industrial Europe, modern Zionism’s pretensions were the noblest conceivable: the redemption of the downtrodden Jewish people in their own land. But from the very beginning the movement represented the conviction of a portion of the Jewish middle class that the future belonged to the Jew-haters, that anti-Semitism was inevitable, and natural. Firmly convinced that anti-Semitism could not be beaten, the new World Zionist Organisation never fought it. Accommodation to anti-Semitism – and pragmatic utilisation of it for the purpose of obtaining a Jewish state – became the central stratagems of the movement, and it remained loyal to its earliest conceptions down to and through the Holocaust. In June l895, in his very first entry in his new Zionist Diary, Herzl laid down this fixed axiom of Zionism:

In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude toward anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to “combat” anti-Semitism.[1]

In the severest sense, Herzl was a man of his time and class; a monarchist who believed the best ruler “un bon tyran”.[2] His Jewish State baldly proclaimed: “Nor are the present-day nations really fit for democracy, and I believe they will become ever less fit for it ... I have no faith in the political virtue of our people, because we are no better than the rest of modern man.”[3]

His universal pessimism caused him to misjudge totally the political environment of late-nineteenth-century Western Europe. In particular, Herzl misunderstood the Dreyfus case. The secrecy of the trial, and Dreyfus’s soldierly insistence on his innocence, convinced many that an injustice was done. The case aroused a huge surge of Gentile support. Kings discussed it and feared for the sanity of France; Jews in remote hamlets in the Pripet Marches prayed for Emile Zola. The intellectuals of France rallied to Dreyfus’s side. The socialist movement brought over the working people. The right wing of French society was discredited, the army stained, the Church disestablished. Anti-Semitism in France was driven into isolation lasting until Hitler’s conquest. Yet Herzl, the most famous journalist in Vienna, did nothing to mobilise even one demonstration on behalf of Dreyfus. When he discussed the matter, it was always as a horrible example and never as a rallying cause. In 1899 the outcry compelled a retrial. A court martial affirmed the captain’s guilt, 5 to 2, but found extenuating circumstances and reduced his sentence to ten years. But Herzl saw only defeat and depreciated the significance of the vast Gentile sympathy for the Jewish victim.

If a dumb beast were tortured in public, would not the crowd send up a cry of indignation? This is the meaning of the pro-Dreyfus sentiment in non-French countries, if indeed it is as widespread as many Jews estimate ... To put it in a nutshell, we might say that the injustice committed against Dreyfus is so great that we forget that we are dealing with a Jew ... is anyone presumptuous enough to claim that of any seven people two, or even one, favor the Jews? ... Dreyfus represents a bastion that has been and still is a point of struggle. Unless we are deceived, that bastion is lost![4]

The French government understood realities better than Herzl and acted to head off further agitation by reducing the balance of the sentence. Given the success of the struggle for Dreyfus, French Jewry – right and left – saw Zionism as irrelevant. Herzl savaged them in his Diary: “They seek protection from the Socialists and the destroyers of the present civil order ... Truly they are not Jews any more. To be sure, they are no Frenchmen either. They will probably become the leaders of European anarchism.”[5]

Herzl’s first opportunity to develop his own pragmatic strategy of non-resistance to anti-Semitism, coupled with emigration of a portion of the Jews to a Jewish state-in-the-making, came with Karl Lueger’s success in Vienna. The demagogue’s victory there was the first major triumph of the new wave of specifically anti-Semitic parties in Europe, but the Habsburgs strenuously opposed the new mayor-elect. Some 8 per cent of their generals were Jews. Jews were conspicuous as regime loyalists amidst the sea of irredentist nationalities tearing the Austro-Hungarian Empire apart. Anti-Semitism could only cause problems for the already weak dynasty. Twice the Emperor refused to confirm Lueger in office. Herzl was one of the few Jews in Vienna who favoured confirmation. Rather than attempting to organise opposition to the Christian Social demagogue, he met the Prime Minister, Count Casimir Badeni, on 3 November 1895 and told him “boldly” to accommodate Lueger:

I think that Lueger’s election as Mayor must be accepted. If you fail to do it the first time, then you will not be able to confirm on any subsequent occasion, and if you fail to accede the third time – the dragoons will have to ride. The Count smiled: “So!” – with a goguenard [scoffing] expression.[6]

It was poverty in the Habsburgs’ Galicia, as well as discrimination in Russia, that was driving Jews into Vienna and further into Western Europe and America. They brought anti-Semitism with them in their luggage. The new immigrants became a “problem” to the rulers of the host societies, and to the already established local Jewries, who feared the rise of native anti-Semitism. Herzl had a ready-made answer to the immigrant wave that he thought would please both the upper class of the indigenous Jews and the ruling class of Western capitalism: he would oblige them by taking the poor Jews off their hands. He wrote to Badeni: “What I propose is ... not in any sense the emigration of all the Jews ... Through the door which I am trying to push open for the poor masses of Jews a Christian statesman who rightly seizes the idea, will step forward into world-history.”[7]

His first efforts at diverting the wind of opposition to Jewish immigration into Zionism’s sails utterly failed, but that did not prevent him from trying again. In 1902 the British Parliament debated an Aliens Exclusion Bill aimed at the migrants, and Herzl travelled to London to testify on the Bill. Rather than pass it, he argued, the British government should support Zionism. He met Lord Rothschild but, in Spite of all his public talk about the rejuvenation of Jewry, he dispensed with such cant in private conversation, telling Rothschild that he “would incidentally be one of those wicked persons to whom English Jews might well erect a monument because I saved them from an influx of East European Jews, and also perhaps from anti-Semitism”.[8]

In his autobiography, Trial and Error, written in 1949, Chaim Weizmann – then the first President of the new Israeli state – looked back at the controversy over the Aliens Bill. An immigrant to Britain himself, the brilliant young chemist was already, in 1902, one of the leading intellectuals of the new Zionist movement. He had met Sir William Evans Gordon, author of the anti-Jewish legislation; even with hindsight, with the Holocaust fresh in his mind, the then President of Israel still insisted that:

our people were rather hard on him [Evans Gordon]. The Aliens Bill in England, and the movement which grew up around it were natural phenomena ... Whenever the quantity of Jews in any country reaches the saturation point, that country reacts against them ... The fact that the actual number of Jews in England, and even their proportion to the total population, was smaller than in other countries was irrelevant; the determining factor in this matter is not the solubility of the Jews, but the solvent power of the country ... this cannot be looked upon as anti-Semitism in the ordinary or vulgar sense of that word; it is a universal social and economic concomitant of Jewish immigration, and we cannot shake it off ... though my views on immigration naturally were in sharp conflict with his, we discussed these problems in a quite objective and even friendly way.[9]

For all his talk about sharp conflict with Evans Gordon, there is no sign that Weizmann ever tried to mobilise the public against him. What did Weizmann say to him in their “friendly” discussion? Neither chose to tell us, but we can legitimately surmise: as with the master Herzl, so with his disciple Weizmann. We can reasonably conjecture that the avowed devotee of pragmatic accommodation asked the anti-Semite for his support of Zionism. Never once, then or in the future, did Weizmann ever try to rally the Jewish masses against anti-Semitism.

“Taking the Jews away from the revolutionary parties”

Herzl had originally hoped to convince the Sultan of Turkey to grant him Palestine as an autonomous statelet in return for the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) taking up the Turkish Empire’s foreign debts. It soon became quite apparent that his hopes were unreal. Abdul Hamid knew well enough that autonomy always led to independence, and he was determined to hold on to the rest of his empire. The WZO had no army, it could never seize the country on its own. Its only chance lay in getting a European power to pressure the Sultan on Zionism’s behalf. A Zionist colony would then be under the power’s protection and the Zionists would be its agents within the decomposing Ottoman realm. For the rest of his life Herzl worked towards this goal, and he turned, first, to Germany. Of course, the Kaiser was far from a Nazi; he never dreamt of killing Jews, and he permitted them complete economic freedom, but nevertheless he froze them totally out of the officer corps and foreign office and there was severe discrimination throughout the civil service. By the end of the 1890s Kaiser Wilhelm became seriously concerned about the ever growing socialist movement, and Zionism attracted him as he was convinced the Jews were behind his enemies. He naively believed that “the Social Democratic elements will stream into Palestine”.[10] He gave Herzl an audience in Constantinople on 19 October 1898. At this meeting the Zionist leader asked for his personal intervention with the Sultan and the formation of a chartered company under German protection. A sphere of influence in Palestine had attractions enough, but Herzl had grasped that he had another bait that he could dangle before potential right-wing patrons: “I explained that we were taking the Jews away from the revolutionary parties.”[11]

In spite of the Kaiser’s deep interest in getting rid of the Jews, nothing could be done through Berlin. His diplomats always knew the Sultan would never agree to the scheme. In addition, the German Foreign Minister was not as foolish as his master. He knew Germany’s Jews would never voluntarily leave their homeland.

Herzl looked elsewhere, even turning to the tsarist regime for support. In Russia Zionism had first been tolerated; emigration was what was wanted. For a time Sergei Zubatov, chief of the Moscow detective bureau, had developed a strategy of secretly dividing the Tsar’s opponents Because of their double oppression, the Jewish workers had produced Russia’s first mass socialist organisation, the General Jewish Workers League, the Bund. Zubatov instructed his Jewish agents to mobilise groups of the new Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) to oppose the revolutionaries.[12] (Zionism is not a monolithic movement, and almost from the beginning the WZO has been divided into officially recognised factions. For a list of the Zionist and Jewish organisations found herein, see the Glossary.) But when elements within the Zionist ranks responded to the pressures of the repressive regime and the rising discontent, and began to concern themselves about Jewish rights in Russia, the Zionist bank – the Jewish Colonial Trust – was banned. This brought Herzl to St Petersburg for meetings with Count Sergei Witte, the Finance Minister, and Vyacheslav von Plevhe, the Minister of the Interior. It was von Plevhe who had organised the first pogrom in twenty years, at Kishenev in Bessarabia on Easter 1903. Forty-five people died and over a thousand were injured; Kishenev produced dread and rage among Jews.

Herzl’s parley with the murderous von Plevhe was opposed even by most Zionists. He went to Petersburg to get the Colonial Trust reopened, to ask that Jewish taxes be used to subsidise emigration and for intercession with the Turks. As a sweetener for his Jewish critics, he pleaded, not for the abolition of the Pale of Settlement, the western provinces where the Jews were confined, but for its enlargement “to demonstrate clearly the humane character of these steps”, he suggested.[13] “This would,, he urged, “put an end to certain agitation.”[14] Von Plevhe met him on 8 August and again on 13 August. The events are known from Herzl’s Diary. Von Plevhe explained his concern about the new direction he saw Zionism taking:

Lately the situation has grown even worse because the Jews have been joining the revolutionary parties. We used to be sympathetic to your Zionist movement, as long as it worked toward emigration. You do not have to justify the movement to me. Vous prÍchez a un converti [You are preaching to a convert]. But ever since the Minsk conference we have noticed un changement des gros bonnets [a change of big-wigs]. There is less talk now of Palestinian Zionism than there is about culture, organisation and Jewish nationalism. This does not suit us.[15]

Herzl did get the Colonial Trust reopened and a letter of endorsement for Zionism from von Plevhe, but the support was given solely on the proviso that the movement confine itself to emigration and avoid taking up national rights inside Russia. In return Herzl sent von Plevhe a copy of a letter to Lord Rothschild suggesting that: “It would substantially contribute to the further improvement of the situation if the pro-Jewish papers stopped using such an odious tone toward Russia. We ought to try to work toward that end in the near future.”[16] Herzl then spoke publicly, in Russia, against attempts to organise socialist groupings within Russian Zionism:

In Palestine ... our land, such a party would vitalise our political life – and then I shall determine my own attitude toward it. You do me an injustice if you say that I am opposed to progressive social ideas. But, now, in our present condition, it is too soon to deal with such matters. They are extraneous. Zionism demands complete, not partial involvement.[17]

Back in the West, Herzl went even further in his collaboration with tsarism. That summer, during the World Zionist Congress in Basle, he had a secret meeting with Chaim Zhitlovsky, then a leading figure in the Social Revolutionary Party. (World Zionist Congresses are held every two years, in odd years; the 1903 Congress was the sixth.) Later Zhitlovsky wrote of this extraordinary conversation. The Zionist told him that:

I have just come from Plevhe. I have his positive, binding promise that in 15 years, at the maximum, he will effectuate for us a charter for Palestine. But this is tied to one condition: the Jewish revolutionaries shall cease their struggle against the Russian government. If in 15 years from the time of the agreement Plevhe does not effectuate the charter, they become free again to do what they consider necessary.[18]

Naturally Zhitlovsky scornfully rejected the proposition. The Jewish revolutionaries were not about to call off the struggle for elementary human rights in return for a vague promise of a Zionist state in the distant future. The Russian naturally had a few choice words to say about the founder of the WZO:

[He] was, in general, too “loyal, to the ruling authorities – as is proper for a diplomat who has to deal with the powers-that-be-for him ever to be interested in revolutionists and involve them in his calculations ... He made the journey, of course, not in order to intercede for the people of Israel and to awaken compassion for us in Plevhe’s heart. He traveled as a politician who does not concern himself with sentiments, but interests ... Herzl’s “politics” is built on pure diplomacy, which seriously believes that the political history of humanity is made by a few people, a few leaders, and that what they arrange among themselves becomes the content of political history.[19]

Was there any justification for Herzl’s meetings with von Plevhe? There can be only one opinion. Even Weizmann was later to write that “the step was not only humiliating, but utterly pointless ... unreality could go no further”.[20] The Tsar had not the slightest influence with the Turks, who saw him as their enemy. At the same time, in l903, Herzl accepted an even more surreal proposition from Britain for a Zionist colony in the Kenya Highlands as a substitute for Palestine. Russian Zionists began to object to these bizarre discussions, and they threatened to leave the WZO, if “Uganda” was even considered. Herzl had a vision of himself as a Jewish Cecil Rhodes; it hardly mattered to him where his colony was to be situated, but to most Russian Zionists the movement was an extension of their biblical heritage and Africa meant nothing to them. A deranged Russian Zionist tried to assassinate Herzl’s lieutenant, Max Nordau, and only Herzl’s premature death prevented an internal collapse of the movement.

However, direct contacts with tsarism did not stop with Herzl. By l908 the ranks were willing to allow Herzl’s successor, David Wolffsohn, to meet the Prime Minister, Piotr Stolypin, and Foreign Minister Alexandr Izvolsky, over renewed harassment of the Colonial Trust bank. Izvolsky quickly came to terms on the minimal request and indeed had a friendly discussion with the WZO’s leader: “I might almost say that I made a Zionist of him,” wrote Wolffsohn triumphantly.[21] But, needless to say, Wolffsohn’s visit led to no changes in Russia’s anti-Jewish legislation.

The First World War

Zionism’s egregious diplomatic record in the pre-war period did not stop the WZO from trying to take advantage of the debacle of the First World War. Most Zionists were pro-German out of aversion to tsarism as the most anti-Semitic of the contending forces. The WZO’s headquarters in Berlin tried to get Germany and Turkey to support Zionism in Palestine as a propaganda ploy to rally world Jewry to their side. Others saw that Turkey was weak and certain to be dismembered in the war. They argued that, if they backed the Allies, Zionism might be set up in Palestine as a reward. To these, it hardly mattered that the Jews of Russia, that is the majority of world Jewry, stood to gain nothing by the victory of their oppressor and his foreign allies. Weizmann, domiciled in London, sought to win over the British politicians. He had already made contact with Arthur Balfour, who, as Prime Minister, had spoken against Jewish immigration, in 1905. Weizmann knew the full extent of Balfour’s anti-semitism, as he had unburdened himself of his philosophy to the Zionist on 12 December 1914. In a private letter, Weizmann wrote: “He told me how he had once had a long talk with Cosima Wagner at Bayreuth and that he shared many of her anti-Semitic postulates.”[22]

While Weizmann intrigued with the politicians in London, Vladimir Jabotinsky had obtained tsarist support for a volunteer Jewish Legion to help Britain take Palestine. There were thousands of young Jews in Britain, still Russian citizens, who were threatened with deportation to tsarist Russia by Herbert Samuel, the Jewish Home Secretary, if they did not “volunteer” for the British Army. They were not intimidated; they would fight neither for the Tsar nor his ally, and the government backed down. The legion idea was a way out for the embarrassed Allies.

The Turks helped make the scheme into a reality by expelling all Russian Jews from Palestine as enemy aliens. They were also unwilling to fight directly for tsarism, but their Zionism led them to follow Jabotinsky’s co-thinker Yosef Trumpeldor into a Zion Mule Corps with the British at Gallipoli. Later Jabotinsky proudly boasted of how the Mule Corps – and the aid of the anti-Semites in Petersburg-helped him to obtain his goal:

it was that “donkey battalion” from Alexandria, ridiculed by all the wits in Israel, which opened before me the doors of the government offices of Whitehall. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in St Petersburg wrote about it to Count Benkendoff, the Russian Ambassador in London; the Russian Embassy forwarded reports on it to the British Foreign Office; the chief Counsellor of the Embassy, the late Constantine Nabokov, who afterward succeeded the Ambassador, arranged for the meetings with British ministers.[23]

The Balfour Declaration and the fight against Bolshevism

The end of the war saw both Jewry and Zionism in a totally new world. The WZO’s manoeuvres had finally paid off – for Zionism, but not for Jewry. The Balfour Declaration was the price that London was prepared to pay to have American Jewry use its influence to bring the United States into the war, and to keep Russian Jewry loyal to the Allies. But although the declaration gave Zionism the military and political backing of the British Empire, it had not the slightest effect on the course of events in the former Tsarist Empire, the heartland of Jewry. Bolshevism, an ideology principally opposed to Zionism, had seized power in Petersburg and was being challenged by White Guard tsarists and Ukrainian, Polish and Baltic forces financed by Britain, the United States, France and Japan. The counter-revolution consisted of many elements which had a long tradition of anti-Semitism and pogroms. This continued, and even developed further, during the civil war and at least 60,000 Jews were killed by the anti-Bolshevik forces. Although the Balfour Declaration gave Zionism the lukewarm support of the backers of the White Guardist pogromists, it did nothing to curb the pogroms. The declaration was, at best, a vague pledge to allow the WZO to try to build a national home in Palestine. The content of that commitment was as yet completely undefined. The WZO’s leaders understood that the British government saw the crushing of the Bolsheviks as its top priority, and that they had to be on their best behaviour, not merely in terms of insignificant Palestine, but in their activities in the volatile East European arena.

Western historians call the Bolshevik revolution the Russian Revolution, but the Bolsheviks themselves regarded it as triggering a world-wide revolt. So also did the capitalists of Britain, France and America, who saw the Communist success galvanising the left wing of their own working classes. Like all social orders that cannot admit the fact that the masses have justification to revolt, they sought to explain the upheavals, to themselves as well as the people, in terms of a conspiracy – of the Jews. On 8 February 1920, Winston Churchill, then the Secretary for War, told readers of the Illustrated Sunday Herald about “Trotsky ... [and] ... his schemes of a world-wide communistic state under Jewish domination”. However, Churchill had his chosen Jewish opponents of Bolshevism – the Zionists. He wrote hotly of “the fury with which Trotsky has attacked the Zionists generally, and Dr Weizmann in particular”. “Trotsky,” Churchill declared, was “directly thwarted and hindered by this new ideal ... The struggle which is now beginning between the Zionist and Bolshevik Jews is little less than a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people.”[24]

The British strategy of using both anti-Semites and Zionists against “Trotsky” rested ultimately on Zionism’s willingness to co-operate with Britain in spite of the British involvement with the White Russian pogromists. The WZO did not want pogroms in Eastern Europe, but it did nothing to mobilise world Jewry on behalf of the Jews beleaguered there. Weizmann’s statements at the time, as well as his memoirs, tell us how they saw the situation. He appeared at the Versailles Conference on 23 February 1919. Once again he enunciated the traditional line on Jewry shared by both anti-Semites and Zionists. It was not the Jews who really had problems, it was the Jews who were the problem:

Jewry and Judaism were in a frightfully weakened condition, presenting, to themselves and to the nations, a problem very difficult of solution. There was, I said, no hope at all of such a solution – since the Jewish problem revolved fundamentally round the homelessness of the Jewish people – without the creation of a National Home.[25]

The Jews, of course, presented no real problem – neither to the nations nor to “themselves” – but Weizmann had a solution to the non-existent “problem”. Once again Zionism offered itself to the assembled capitalist powers as an anti-revolutionary movement. Zionism would “transform Jewish energy into a constructive force instead of its being dissipated in destructive tendencies”.[26] Even in his later years Weizmann could still only see the Jewish tragedy during the Russian Revolution through the Zionist end of the telescope:

Between the Balfour Declaration and the accession of the Bolsheviks to power, Russian Jewry had subscribed the then enormous sum of 30 million rubles for an agricultural bank in Palestine; but this, with much else, had now to be written off ... Polish Jewry ... was still suffering so much in the separate Russo-Polish War, that it was incapable of making any appreciable contribution to the tasks which lay ahead of us.[27]

Weizmann saw Zionism as weak in all respects with only a toe-hold in Palestine. Eastern Europe was “a tragedy which the Zionist movement was at the moment powerless to relieve”.[28] Others were not so torpid. The British trade unions organised an embargo of arms shipments to the Whites. French Communists staged a mutiny in the French Black Sea fleet. And, of course, it was the Red Army that tried to protect the Jews against their White murderers. But the WZO never used its influence, either in the Anglo-Jewish community or in the seats of power, to back up the militant unionists. Weizmann completely shared the anti-Communist mentality of his British patrons. He never changed his opinion on the period. Even in Trial and Error, he still sounded like a high Tory writing of “a time when the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution were fresh in everyone’s mind” (my emphasis).[29]

The minority treaties at the Versailles Peace Conference

Russia was out of control, but the Allies and their local clients still dominated the rest of Eastern Europe; now that the WZO had been converted by the Balfour Declaration into an official Voice of Israel, it could no longer remain taciturn about the fate of the huge Jewish communities there. It had to act as their spokesman. What it wanted was for the Jews to be recognised as a nation with autonomy for its separate schools and language institutions, as well as for the Jewish sabbath to be recognised as their day of rest. Since reliance on imperialism was the backbone of Zionist strategy, the Comite des Delegations Juives – essentially the WZO in tandem with the American Jewish Committee – presented a memorandum on national autonomy to the Versailles Conference. All the new successor states to the fallen empires, but neither Germany nor Russia, were to be compelled to sign minority-rights treaties as a precondition of diplomatic recognition. At first the idea was taken up by the Allies, who realised that minority rights were essential if the tangled national chauvinists of Eastern Europe were not to tear each other to pieces and pave the way for a Bolshevik take-over. One by one the Poles, the Hungarians and the Romanians signed, but their signatures were meaningless. The rapidly growing Christian middle classes in these countries saw the Jews as their entrenched competitors and were determined to dislodge them. The Pole who signed their treaty was the country’s most notorious anti-Semite, the Hungarians declared their treaty day a day of national mourning and the Romanians refused to sign until the clauses guaranteeing sabbath rights and Jewish schools were deleted from their treaty.

There never was the slightest chance of success for the utopian plan. Balfour soon realised what problems the treaties would create for the Allies in Eastern Europe. On 22 October, he told the League of Nations that the accusing states would be assuming a thankless duty if they attempted to enforce the treaty obligations. He then argued that since the treaties preceded the League, it should not obligate itself to enforce them.[30] The assembled lawyers then accepted legal responsibility for the treaties, but provided no enforcement machinery.

Jews could not be bothered to use the meaningless treaties. Only three collective petitions were ever sent in. In the 1920s Hungary was found to have a numerus clausus in its universities. In 1933 the still weak Hitler felt compelled to honour the German-Polish Minority Convention, which was the only such treaty applicable to Germany, and 10,000 Jews in Upper Silesia retained all civil rights until treaty term in July 1937.[31] Romania was found guilty of revoking Jewish citizen rights in 1937. Such petty legalistic victories changed nothing in the long run.

The only way the Jews could have had any success in fighting for their rights in Eastern Europe was in alliance with the working-class movements which, in all these countries, saw anti-Semitism for what it was: an ideological razor in the hands of their own capitalist enemies. But although social revolution meant equality for the Jews as Jews, it also meant the expropriation of the Jewish middle class as capitalists. That was unacceptable to the local affiliates of the WZO, who were largely middle class in composition with virtually no working-class following. The world Zionist movement, always concerned for British ruling-class opinion, never pushed its local groupings in the direction of the left, although the radicals were the only mass force on the ground that was prepared to defend the Jews. Instead, the WZO leaders concluded that they lacked the strength to struggle simultaneously for Jewish rights in the Diaspora and build the new Zion” and by the 1920s they abandoned all pretence of action on behalf of Diaspora Jewry in situ, leaving their local affiliates – and the Jewish communities in these countries – to fend for themselves.

The Zionist alliance with anti-semitism in Eastern Europe

Most of the Jews in Eastern Europe did not see the Bolsheviks as the ogres that Churchill and Weizmann believed them to be. Under Lenin the Bolsheviks not only gave the Jews complete equality, but they even set up schools and, ultimately, courts in Yiddish; however, they were absolutely opposed to Zionism and all ideological nationalism. The Bolsheviks taught that the revolution required the unity of the workers of all nations against the capitalists. The nationalists separated “their” workers from their class fellows. Bolshevism specifically opposed Zionism as pro-British and as fundamentally anti-Arab. The local Zionist leadership was therefore forced to turn to the nationalists as possible allies. In the Ukraine that meant Simon Petliura’s Rada (Council), which, like the Zionists, recruited on strictly ethnic lines: no Russians, no Poles and no Jews.


The Rada was based on village schoolteachers and other language enthusiasts, steeped in the “glorious” history of the Ukraine – that is Bogdan Zinovy Chmielnicki’s seventeenth-century Cossack revolt against Poland, during which the enraged peasantry massacred 100,000 Jews whom they saw as middlemen working for the Polish Pans (nobles). Nationalist ideology reinforced the “Christ-killer” venom which was poured into the illiterate rural masses by the old regime. Anti-Semitic outbreaks were inevitable in such an ideological climate, but the Zionists were taken in by promises of national autonomy, and rushed into the Rada. In January 1919 Abraham Revusky of the Poale Zion took office as Petliura’s Minister for Jewish Affairs.[32] Meir Grossmann of the Ukrainian Zionist Executive went abroad to rally Jewish support for the anti-Bolshevik regime.[33]

The inevitable pogroms started with the first Ukrainian defeat at the hands of the Red Army in January 1919, and Revusky was compelled to resign within a month when Petliura did nothing to stop the atrocities. In many respects the Petliura episode destroyed the mass base of Zionism amongst Soviet Jews. Churchill lost his gamble: Trotsky, not Weizmann and not Revusky, was to win the soul of the Jewish masses.


Lithuanian Zionist involvement with the anti-Semites was likewise a failure, although, fortunately, Lithuania did not generate significant pogroms. The nationalists there were in an extremely weak position. Not only did they face a threat from Communism, they also had to struggle against Poland in a dispute over the territory around Vilna. They felt compelled to work with the Zionists, as they needed the support of the considerable Jewish minority in Vilna, and they also overestimated Zionist influence with the Allied powers whose diplomatic assent was a requirement if they were ever to gain the city. In December 1918 three Zionists entered the provisional government of Antanas Smetona and Augustinas Voldemaras. Jacob Wigodski became Minister for Jewish Affairs, N. Rachmilovitch became Vice-Minister for Trade and Shimshon Rosenbaum was appointed Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The bait again was autonomy. Jews would be given proportional representation in government, full rights for Yiddish, and a Jewish National Council would be given the right of compulsory taxation of all Jews for religious and cultural affairs. Non-payment of tax would only be allowed for converts. Max Soloveitchik, who succeeded Wigodski at the Jewish Ministry, enthused that “Lithuania is the creative source of the future forms of Jewish living”.[34]

By April 1922 the Lithuanian government felt it could begin to move against the Jews. The Vilna Corridor was definitely lost to Poland and the Polish Army stood between Communism and the Lithuanian border. Smetana’s first move was to refuse to guarantee the institutions of autonomy in the constitution. Soloveitchik resigned in protest, and went to join the WZO Executive in London. The local Zionists tried to deal with the problem by forming an electoral bloc with the Polish, German and Russian minorities. This little extra muscle made the government slow its pace, and Rosenbaum was given the Jewish Ministry by Ernestas Galvanauskas, the new Prime Minister. By 1923 the onslaught began again with parliamentary speeches in Yiddish being forbidden. By June 1924 the Jewish Ministry was abolished; by July Yiddish store signs were outlawed; in September the police scattered the National Council, and Rosenbaum and Rachmilovitch moved to Palestine. By 1926 Smetana had set up a semi-Fascist regime which lasted until the Second World War take-over by Stalin. In later days Voldemaras and Galvanauskas openly assumed the role of Nazi agents in Lithuanian politics.

Zionist accommodation with anti-semitism

The essentials of Zionist doctrine on anti-Semitism were laid down well before the Holocaust: anti-Semitism was inevitable and could not be fought; the solution was the emigration of unwanted Jews to a Jewish state-in-the-making. The inability of the Zionist movement to take Palestine militarily compelled it to look for imperial patronage, which it expected to be motivated by anti-Semitism to some degree. Zionists additionally saw revolutionary Marxism as an assimilationist enemy which persuaded them to ally against it with their fellow separatists of the anti-Semitic right-wing nationalist movements in Eastern Europe.

Herzl and his successors were proven correct. It was an anti-Semite, Balfour, who enabled Zionism to entrench itself in Palestine. Although Israel was ultimately established through armed revolt against Britain, if it had not been for the presence of the British Army during the early years of the Mandate, the Palestinians would not have had the slightest problem pushing Zionism out.

But we are victims here of a sleight-of-hand trick. Balfour did give Zionism its toe-hold in Palestine, but did the British Mandate protect the Jews against their enemies in Europe?

Anti-Semitism could always be fought. It was not only fought, it was defeated in France, Russia and the Ukraine without any help from the World Zionist Organisation. Had the people of those countries followed the dictates of the Zionists, the anti-Semites would never have been defeated.

The policies of the early WZO were continued, in all essentials, by Chaim Weizmann, the main leader of the organisation during the Hitler epoch. Those elements in the WZO who wanted to make a stand against Nazism in the 1930s always found their main internal enemy in the President of their own movement. Nahum Goldmann, himself to become a post-Holocaust President of the WZO, later described in a speech the fierce arguments on the subject between Weizmann and rabbi Stephen Wise, a leading figure in American Zionism:

I remember very violent discussions between him and Weizmann, who was a very great leader in his own right, but who rejected every interest in other things. He did take an interest in saving German Jews in the period of the first years of Nazism but World Jewish Congress, fight for Jewish rights, not that he denied their need, but he could not spare the time from his Zionist work. Stephen Wise argued with him “but it is part and parcel of the same problem. If you lose the Jewish Diaspora you will not have a Palestine and you can only deal with the totality of Jewish life.[35]

Such was Zionism, and such its leading figure, when Adolf Hitler strode on to the stage of history.


  1. Marvin Lowenthal (ed.), The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p.6.
  2. Desmond Stewart, Theodor Herzl, p.141.
  3. Ludwig Lewisohn (ed.), Theodor Herzl: A Portrait, pp.293-4.
  4. Ibid., pp.219-20.
  5. Raphael Patai (ed.), The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol.II, pp.672-3.
  6. Lowenthal, Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p.71.
  7. Ibid., p.100.
  8. Ibid., p.366.
  9. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp.90-1.
  10. David Yisraeli, Germany and Zionism, Germany and the Middle East, 1835-1939 (Tel Aviv University, 1975), p.142.
  11. Patai, Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol.III, p.729.
  12. George Gapon, The Story of My Life, p.94.
  13. Patai, Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. IV, p.1521.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid., p.1525.
  16. Ibid., p.1538.
  17. Amos Elon, Herzl, pp.381-2.
  18. Samuel Portnoy (ed.), Vladimir Medem – The Life and Soul of a Legendary Jewish Socialist, pp.295-8.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.82.
  21. Emil Cohen, David Wolffsohn, p.196.
  22. Meyer Weisgal (ed.), The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, Letters, vol.VII p.81. After the Holocaust Weizmann could not reveal the anti-Semitism of Zionism’s great patron. He changed the record in Trial and Error: “Mr Balfour mentioned that, two years before, he had been in Bayreuth, and that he had talked with Frau Cosima Wagner, the widow of the composer, who had raised the subject of the Jews. I interrupted Mr Balfour ...” (p.153).
  23. Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Story of the Jewish Legion, p.74.
  24. Winston Churchill, Zionism versus Bolshevism, Illustrated Sunday Herald (8 February 1920), p.5.
  25. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p.243.
  26. Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p.348.
  27. Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp.240-1.
  28. Ibid., p.242.
  29. Ibid.. p.218.
  30. Jacob Robinson et al., Were the Minority Treaties a Failure?, pp.79-80.
  31. Jacob Robinson, And the Crooked shall be made Straight, p.72.
  32. Abraham Revusky, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol.14, col.134.
  33. Meir Grossmann, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol.7, col.938.
  34. Samuel Gringauz, Jewish National Autonomy in Lithuania (1918-1925), Jewish Social Studies (July 1952), p.237.
  35. Nahum Goldmann, Dr Stephen S. Wise, A Galaxy of American Zionist Rishonim, pp.17-18.


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