Kannan Srinivasan

The Hamas attack as well as Israel’s response might be placed in the context of the history of Zionism.

Specifically, Theodor Herzl’s decision to abandon his liberal Hungarian nationalism — upon realising this identity would soon be overwhelmed by the new European ethnic nationalisms, which, having gained currency after the failure of the revolutions of 1848, would eventually make all Europe unsafe for the Jews. And then, I should suggest, to seek to defend the Jewish peoples of Europe from ethnic nationalism, by inventing his Zionism as yet another, accommodating thereby the inherently anti-Semitic claim that the Jewish people did not belong in the West but in Palestine.

Long after his death this has enabled the West to minimise its responsibility for Shoah. Today, when Israel bombs Gaza, it is in fact the West that does so. And the West it is that admonishes bewildered Palestinians as they die, “Never again!”     

And, thereafter, in terrorising the Arab & Muslim world, the West terrorises at the same time Israelis, placing them forever as anxious local gendarmerie, ever threatened, ever dependent on Western largesse, forever denied the possibility of real freedom.

Andrew Handler, wartime member of the Zionist youth Maccabi ha-Za’ir has shown (Dori: theLife & Times of Theodor Herzl in Budapest 1860-1878 University of Alabama Press 1983 Judaic Studies Series) how the campaign for an ethnic Magyar-dominated Hungarian Kingdom had made up the lie that rule from Vienna had enabled the Jews to rob the Hungarian people.

Yet this very anti-Semitism was to inspire, paradoxically, as Handler has argued, the Zionist programme itself. On the 24 June 1878 Győző  Istóczy set out in the Hungarian Diet that the Jews would destroy Hungary and the “solution is none other than the restoration of the ancient Jewish state (p 113)”. The Jewish Question was a national one, he said, of the “establishment in Palestine of an independent Jewish state (114)”.

Handler points out the “striking similarity between key passages of Istoczy’s anti-Semitic screed A Palesztina Beszcd–  & Herzl’s Der Judenstaat” laying out the ideology of the future state of Israel.

For Herzl decided that the Jewish peoples of Europe could only gain safety by creating their own ethnic nationalism, & so adopted the anti-Semitic demand that Palestine become the Jewish homeland.

Yet Herzl’s Zionism & the policy to which it led, namely the Balfour Declaration, was opposed by liberal Western Jews such as the British statesman Edwin Montagu:

I wish to place on record my view that the policy of His Majesty’s Government is anti-Semitic and in result will prove a rallying ground for Anti-Semites in every country in the world….. …I assert that there is not a Jewish nation. …When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants…. Montagu,1879-1924, Secretary of State for India 1917-1922 UK Public Record Office, Cab. 24/24, Aug. 23, 1917

Nevertheless, the new ethnic nationalisms spread rapidly, each ethnic majority seeking to award itself a territory & the state that went with it, promoting mutually exclusive extravagant claims intolerant of those outside the mythical “nation”, all seized by the identical Hobbesian paranoia about outsiders within.. Look to India to see how this travelled: for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who did much to shape the Indian ideology of today justified what Hitler was doing shortly before Kristallnacht:

Several communities may live in one country for thousands of years but this does not help in forming a nation…In Germany the movement of the Germans is the national movement but that of the Jews is a communal one (weekly confidential report, District Magistrate, Poona,  21st October 1938)”,

& elaborated on this to students of the Law College, Poona, 31 July 1939, before hostilities commenced in WW2:

Nationality did not depend so much on a common geographical area as on unity of thought, religion, language and culture. For this reason the Germans and Jews could not be regarded as one nation. In the same way India was a nation of Hindus as they were in the majority (emphasis added, Bombay Province Weekly Letter, No. 20, 30 Sept. 1939).”

Authoritarian variants produced distinct European fascisms: although Germany is the most cited, we might look to France, turning in on itself after defeat at Sedan & the Paris Commune to look for an “enemy within” when it persecuted Dreyfus.

Despite that falsehood being exposed, anti-Semitism persisted, fortified by the colonial racism common to most European states; so years later it powered popular support for Petain & his Vichy collaboration with National Socialism, which rounded up Jews to send them off to be tortured & murdered, in the “Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv’” at the cycling stadium in Paris in July 1942. Maurice Papon, one of its high functionaries, was like most never punished; accordingly, he was to go on to torture Algerians & detain them in the same stadium in Paris in 1961 & organise their murder. Insufficiently acknowledged, this very anti-Semitism is reborn today as Islamophobia, serving to appease both traditional anti-Semites as well as survivors of genocide.

It is such French tradition that accounts for the surreal spectacle of the Sephardic Éric Zemmour reassuring the French that their ancestors had no responsibility for Shoah, even as his fellow right wing colleague Marine Le Pen supports Israel yet is silent on her own family’s rich anti-Semitic history; as well as the absurdity of how the “hijab question” has now become the central concern of French laïcité, rapidly Occidentalising the Jews whom it so recently Orientalised, & Orientalising instead Muslims, consistent with the creation of “anti-Semitism” as a matter of concern as entirely distinct from other racism.

Might we not therefore see Zionism itself not as a “lobby” that impedes US strategic concerns, but a subordinate agent that enacts them, limiting thereby its own agency?  We might recall that during the Suez Crisis the British MP Nye Bevan had focused on those responsible for the debacle:

“If we complain about the tune, there is no reason to criticise the monkey when the organ-grinder is present  (House of Commons Debates, 16th May 1957).”  

So is it “Jewish control of the media” — that conspiratorial anti-Semitic fantasy that serves some as well as Islamophobia– or Western policy, specifically American, which defines Israel’s role in safeguarding its interest in controlling petroleum & international waterways– which accounts for Israel’s acts today?

I am grateful for inspiration from Catherine Benoit, Akeel Bilgrami, Faisal Devji, Gowri Gurumurthy, Carol Krinsky & Sanjay Reddy, though none is responsible for my habitual confusion. Wertheim Study, New York Public Library,

Top - Home