On May 2nd the Jewish Chronicle posted a story “Leading JVL figure blames ‘Zionists’ for deaths of thousands of Jews in Holocaust”, purporting to be a report of a talk Jonathan Rosenhead had given in London on April 26th. It was a shabby piece of hatchet journalism, as Jonathan Rosenhead shows below.

Blaming the Zionists for the Holocaust?

Jonathan Rosenhead, JVL
8 May 2018


On May 2nd the Jewish Chronicle posted a story titled  Leading JVL figure blames ‘Zionists’ for deaths of thousands of Jews in Holocaust, purporting to be a report of a talk I had given in London on April 26th. It was largely based on my short response to a question at the end of the 2-hour meeting, which dealt with the Zionist movement’s policy on German Jewish refugees just before the war. The question had nothing to do with the subject of my talk.

The Jewish Chronicle article also commented negatively on a passage from that talk in which I discussed the uncertain origin of some abusive social media postings asserted to be from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

The article is selective, vindictive and distorted. It was sent to me by email at 2pm on Wednesday May 2nd, with an invitation to comment within such a tight and arbitrary time window (I was on a train to Leeds when it arrived) as to provide no opportunity at all. This was treating a serious matter – an effective imputation of antisemitism – as a handy political football.

Their story has been picked up in the twitter-sphere and re-purposed to label me as a ‘Holocaust revisionist’, or worse. This is indeed the unspoken implication of the article. It is a charge that is completely unworthy of the Jewish Chronicle. There can be few Jews in the country who have not lost a portion of their family in that great evil, and I am no exception.

This statement addresses, first the factual basis underlying my response to the questioner; and second, some issues connected to anonymous social media posts. The video of the entire meeting is available here.

1. The German Jewish refugee crisis, 1938-9

The questioner to whom I responded quoted from Mein Kampf in order to demonstrate that Hitler was indeed an antisemite. This was as a prelude to asking ‘What do you think should be done about Ken Livingstone?’ The implication was that Livingstone in his notorious interview had claimed that Hitler was a practicing Zionist. (This topic had not featured in any way in my talk at the meeting.)

What Livingstone had (quite unnecessarily) referenced was a temporary convergence of interests between the Nazis, who wanted Jews out of Germany, and German and other Zionists who wanted to get Jews to join the settlement programme in Palestine.

In my response to the questioner I described the reasonably well-known opposition of the Zionist establishment in the late 1930’s to settling Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany anywhere other than in Palestine. They were at first enthusiastic when President Roosevelt called the Evian conference in July 1938 to handle the plight of the increasing numbers of Jews wishing to flee persecution by Nazi Germany. But they were also worried. The position was put succinctly by Yitzhak Gruenbaum at a pre-Conference meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive:

A danger exists, namely, that in the course of their search for a way out, they will find some new territory to which they will want to direct Jewish emigration. We must defend our principle–that Jewish settlement can succeed only in Eretz-Israel, and therefore no other [place of] settlement can be considered.” [Beit-Zvi, 155]

In his authoritative work on the Evian conference Beit-Zvi points to “Weizmann’s fear at the idea of settlement in countries other than Palestine, and Ben-Gurion’s fervent desire to ensure that the conference would not find concrete ways and means to that end” [Beit-Zvi, 154]. The task perceived by the Zionist leadership became “to play down as far as possible the image of the conference and to bring about a situation in which it would make no decisions at all” [Beit-Zvi, 157]. This was in effect the outcome, but largely for other reasons.

This stance taken by the Zionist leadership is captured quite dramatically by David Ben-Gurion’s controversial remark to the Mapai Central Committee in 1938:

”If I knew that it was possible to save all the [Jewish] children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.” [Teveth, 855-6].

My response to the questioner focussed in particular on the issue of the influence of this Zionist reluctance on the admission of Jewish refugees to Latin America. After the Evian conference some Latin American countries expressed an interest in taking refugees in considerable numbers. Beit-Zvi [p.209] provides a table of numbers of refugees actually admitted by country which records “impressive numbers attesting to a concrete readiness among South American countries to absorb German Jews after Evian”. However many of those doors were to close by 1940, “reflect[ing] the fluctuations between the response of these countries to the moral pressure of the Evian Conference and the lobbying of the big neighbor to the north, as well as the effect of local socio-economic conditions” [Beit-Zvi, 209-10].

One element in the post-Evian mix was the Schacht/Rublee plan, which was developed between the American George Rublee (for the Evian Conference) and Hjalmar Schacht, President of the Reichsbank. This would have used part of confiscated Jewish assets to fund the transfer and establishment of refugees in host countries. Given the relative poverty of many Latin American countries the need for funding to settle refugees in any numbers was clear. This would have been a complex arrangement, and negotiations lapsed with the demotion of Schacht, and definitively ended with the outbreak of war. But during the period when it seemed the best hope of securing a rapid exit of Jewish refugees it was opposed by US Zionists, and by the Jewish Agency – on the grounds that all available funding was needed by the Yishuv in Palestine and should not be diverted to other potential destinations [Raider, 152].

The outstanding opportunity to find a host nation in Latin America for Jewish refugees came with the offer by the Dominican Republic to take 100,000. Zionist pressure had already contributed to the abandonment of settlement projects in British Guiana, the Philippines and Australia. But the offer from the Dominican Republic, enthusiastically pursued by the country’s dictator President Trujillo, was a much stronger proposition. The project also had “the unequivocal support of the US government” (contra the comment of Dr. Medoff to the Jewish Chronicle). This resulted in a more circumspect initial Zionist attitude. However over time the hostility of the World Jewish Congress became increasingly “naked and transparent” [Beit-Zvi, 219]. Settlement projects take time, and by 1941 the ability of would-be refugees to make their escape ended. In total less than one thousand were settled in the Dominican Republic.

In my impromptu response to the questioner I over-stated the firmness of the Latin American offers, and hence the magnitude of the potential or actual effect of Zionist opposition to them. However what I said is not “absolutely baseless” (Professor Frilling’s comment to the Jewish Chronicle). The possibility of large-scale rescue was certainly in the air (Brazil was also in the frame), and the Zionist establishment did everything it could to thwart it. Paul Bogdanor’s view that I asserted that the Zionist movement “controlled the immigration policies” of Latin American countries is his invention. All such international melees involve multiple actors. One of them doing its best to disrupt delicate negotiations can be undermining. That is not “control”, it is politics.

Given the time scale it is unclear whether Zionist opposition to settling refugees, in the Dominican Republic or indeed anywhere other than in Palestine, in fact made a practical difference to the number who made it out of Germany. Many other factors were at work. However the intention to avoid diversion away from Palestine, of both potential settlers and the finance they would need, dominated in Zionist circles over other considerations.

At least 300,000 Jews were still in Germany and Austria at the time of Evian, and yet it was acknowledged by the Zionist delegation at a press conference that the Yishuv could absorb no more than 10,000 annually [Beit-Zvi, 159]. The attempt by mainstream Zionist organisations to frustrate attempts to settle them anywhere else is clear from the record. Of course neither the Jewish Agency nor the Zionist Executive could have knowledge that time was running out. No one could have foreseen the impending horrors of the Holocaust.

References

SB Beit-Zvi Post-Ugandan Zionism on Trial: a study of the factors that caused the mistakes made by the Zionist movement during the Holocaust, 1991, Zahala-Tel-Aviv [Available online at https://archive.org/stream/Post-ugandanZionism/Beitzvi_djvu.txt]

MA Raider Nahum Goldmann: Statesman without a State, SUNY Press, Albany, 2009.

Shabtai Teveth ”Ben-Gurion: The Burning Ground 1886-1948 Houghton Mifflin, 1988.

 

2. Antisemitic social media posts

The Jewish Chronicle apparently thinks that raising the issue of the provenance of antisemitic social media postings, as I did in my talk, is itself potentially antisemitic. It is otherwise not clear why they should have focussed on it.

There has been much public discussion of the prevalence of antisemitism in the Labour Party. In discussing the evidence on this issue it is necessary to distinguish between

  • antisemitic statements made by members at meetings
  • antisemitic statements made by members on social media
  • antisemitic statements on social media made by people identifying themselves as supporters of Jeremy Corbyn; and antisemitic statements on social media which are attributed, with no evidence whatsoever, to supporters of Corbyn or members of the Labour party
  1. i) Antisemitic statements made by members at meetings.

Reports of such statements are vanishingly rare. I myself have never heard one, and I have been in the Labour Party (on and off) since 1962. When I spoke at a meeting in Mid-Wales in March this year I asked those in the audience who were Labour Party members (about 25) which of them had encountered expressions of antisemitism at Party events, and no hand went up. This included a number of Jewish members, who all said they had encountered occasional antisemitism, but never in the Labour Party. I mention this not because it is exceptional, but because it is typical. In a recent interview on Radio 4 Fabian Hamilton, a Jewish Labour MP, reported the same personal experience.

  1. ii) Antisemitic statements made by members on social media

There have been a number of cases where antisemitic statements have been posted on social media by identifiable Labour party members. In all such cases it is appropriate, indeed essential, that the Party’s disciplinary process is activated – and I believe that this has generally happened. This process has been operated in an incompetent and prejudicial way over the past 2 years. Despite pressure from the Corbyn leadership the introduction of the reforms proposed by the Chakrabarti Report were obstructed. It is good that under our new General Secretary Jennie Formby they are now moving ahead.

It is rare to find social media postings by members which express classic hatred of Jews. Much of the suspect material concerns Israel, but too often confuses the categories Jew, Israeli and Zionist. Some of these posts deploy classical antisemitic stereotypes, often in connection with a criticism of Israel. All need to be properly investigated and action decided on – whether expulsion or exposure to appropriate education on the issues.

iii) Other antisemitic social media posts

The majority and most virulent of the antisemitic posts that claim some allegiance to Jeremy Corbyn do not originate with identifiable Labour Party members. Twitter for example does not require users to post under a real name, verify their email address or authenticate their identity. As the most trolled MP Diane Abbot says, the problem is not defining abuse but tracking down perpetrators.

There is thus no way of knowing who many of those posting antisemitic material and claiming to be Corbyn supporters actually are. They may be antisemites who support Jeremy. They may be people who support Jeremy, but are confused about what antisemitism consists of. Or there is a third possibility, which I referred to in my talk. This is that of misrepresentation – appearing to be arguing in one interest, but actually in order to discredit it.

This is by no means a new idea. It has been around in military operations for centuries. The Lavon affair in the 1950’s is just one example: Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli army intelligence to bomb civil targets in Egypt with a view to persuading the British not to evacuate the Suez Canal zone. In the 1970s British intelligence is credibly believed, not least by the Irish government, to have been complicit in bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan which killed over 30 people, carried out to influence the course of events in the North. And so on.

Yossi Alpher served in the IDF as an intelligence officer, followed by 12 years in Mossad. His book Periphery [Alpher, 2015] details many events in which the Israeli hand was concealed. One will serve – the delivery of weaponry to Saudi-backed forces fighting Egyptian-backed rebels in Yemen, during the 1960’s. Fourteen airdrops were made; they consisted entirely of captured Egyptian weapons, in order to conceal the evidence about who was actually supplying them.

A recent book [Bergman, 2018] that has been widely praised as meticulous, describes the Israeli operations in Lebanon in the 1980’s which resulted in the death of hundreds of civilians in car bombings. They were claimed by the mysterious ‘Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners’, which was in fact entirely recruited and supplied with explosives by Israel. One of the objectives of this covert operation was to goad the PLO into resorting to “terrorism” so as to provide Israel with a justification to invade Lebanon.

Such deception is not limited to military or violent activity, and the potential anonymity of the internet makes it particularly easy there. It is well known that US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia conducted a cyber campaign to help defeat Hillary Clinton [Financial Times, 16 February 2018] and it is widely believed that this is only the tip of an international iceberg.

Israel has virtually unchallenged cyber skills. For example Unit 8200 of the IDF, several thousand strong, has been described by the Director of Military Sciences at RUSI as “probably the foremost technical intelligence agency in the world and stands on a par with the [US] NSA in everything except scale”.  There is no evidence that Israeli military or intelligence personnel have engaged in cyber campaigns of the type that Russia engages in – but such evidence is by its nature hard to come by.

Israel has other potentially formidable resources in internet-based operations. One is Megaphone’, an internet system based in the Foreign Ministry enabling “supporters of Israel everywhere to become cyberspace soldiers ’in the new battleground for Israel’s image’”. The initial ambition was to recruit 100,000 users – whose computers (or smart phones, one would now assume) would “receive daily updates with instant links to important Internet polls, problematic articles that require a talkback, etc.” [Jerusalem Post, 28 November 2006].

In 2010 Ha’aretz reported that the Foreign Ministry was planning to use front groups to transmit hasbara (public relations) messages to influence senior politicians, opinion shapers and journalists in Europe, but in such a way that the message “does not bear the “fingerprints” of the Israeli government”. And in 2015 its ex-spokesperson said that the IDF had a system, called ‘Global Distribution’, that parallels Megaphone. A message can be transmitted “with a single click”, enabling Diaspora Jews to “participate in the war effort from home.” While these participants may not be anonymous, the messages they send are fashioned by others.

Given this background it would be over-trusting simply to assume that all anonymous social media posts combining antisemitic formulations with expressions of support for Jeremy Corbyn are genuine. Israeli state actors may not have been tempted by this wide-open door; but there are many others who could be less scrupulous. We should certainly maintain a degree of scepticism about the proportion of these posts that are genuine.

References

Yossi Alpher Periphery: Israel’s search for allies in the Middle East, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2015.

Financial TimesUS charges Russians with 2016 election interference’ 16 February 2018 (accessed 6 May 2018)

Jerusalem PostIsrael’s newest PR weapon: the internet megaphone’ 28 November 2006 (accessed 6 May 2018)

Ronen Bergman Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations, Random House, New York, 2018