16 Nov 2008

'My mother died in Auschwitz, and I barely escaped the same fate'

I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Weiss last tuesday, she survived the Holocaust but her mother was killed by the Nazis. 'My life has been shaped by the Jewish Holocaust under Hitler. My mother died in Auschwitz, and I barely escaped the same fate', she has noted.

Suzanne Weiss works with the excellent Socialist Voice whose work I recommend, they have been particularly strong in promoting ecosocialism, indigenous struggles and the work of my amigo Hugo Blanco.

Her Venezuela solidarity blog can be clicked here and if you are based in Toronto, please support the good work she is involved with.

She of course argues that to be critical of Zionism is not the same as being anti-semitic and does lots of solidarity work with Palestine...any way on to her essay..

The Three Faces of Anti-Jewish Prejudice

by Suzanne Weiss

In 1919, Lenin, the great leader of the Russian Revolution, gave a brief talk on anti-Semitism that was recorded for use among the Russian peasantry.

“Anti-Semitism means spreading enmity towards the Jews,” he said. It is a “remnant of ancient feudal times, when the priests burned heretics at the stake, when the peasants live in slavery, and when the people were crushed and inarticulate.” In our epoch, “we often see the capitalists fomenting hatred against the Jews in order to blind the workers, to divert their attention from the real enemy of the working people, capitalism.”
(Collected Works, vol. 29, page 252)

That sums up both how Jewish prejudice and hatred was born and the form it takes in modern capitalism. But as we shall see, the rise of Zionism has given this scourge a new twist.
The history of anti-Semitism

Historically, the Jewish people survived as social group with an economic function--that of merchants and traders in pre-capitalist societies. Even before the Roman Empire, only one-quarter of the world’s Jews lived in Palestine, while the rest formed commercial colonies across the ancient world from Iran to Egypt to Greece.

In pre-capitalist societies, this commercial role was viewed with disdain and prejudice. Typically, it was fulfilled by ethnic groups. Examples in recent times are the Lebanese and Indians in Africa, or the Chinese in much of south-east Asia. The Jews long played this economic role in Europe and the Mediterranean.

When the Roman Empire fell, the Jewish merchant class continued to play an indispensable role in feudal, non-commercial economy. As Abram Leon explains in his classic study, The Jewish Question, Jewish people who were not in the merchant class were assimilated. This period was free of systematic anti-Semitism; it lasted in Western Europe until about 1100.
First rise of Anti-Semitism

After about 1100, a native bourgeoisie grew up among western European peoples. These new bourgeois affirmed themselves as people of commerce and shoved the Jews aside.

Anti-Semitism was the ideological weapon used by the clerics and new bourgeois to expel the Jews. Persecution from rising bourgeois in Spain and western Europe forced Jews to escape to the more primitive, pre-capitalist territories of the Turkish empire and eastern Europe, especially Poland, where they continued their role as traders. This period lasted until about 1700.

During the epoch of industrial capitalism and of the bourgeois revolution in western Europe, the now-confident capitalist class had less need for anti-Semitism. The French Revolution emancipated the Jews from legal discrimination. The remaining Jewish populations in western Europe were absorbed into the broad range of economic life and partially assimilated. Examples of this are the families of Felix Mendelssohn, the composer, and of Karl Marx. This phase lasted through most of the 19th century.
The second rise of anti-Semitism

In 1900, eastern Europe was a region of decaying feudalism and rising anti-Semitism. A majority of the world’s Jews lived there, and received the brunt of anti Semitic discrimination through enforcement of laws and also through pogroms — massive violent attacks on Jews and their environment.

As a result, four million Jews fled from eastern Europe by 1930, of which three million went to the U.S. and only 100,000 to Palestine. Jewish communities were rebuilt in western Europe due to this immigration. There, they encountered new rise of anti-Semitism. Capitalism in Europe was now challenged by powerful workers’ and socialist movements. Right-wing forces made the Jews the scapegoats for capitalist crisis, blaming the evils of the society on rich Jews.

By the 1930s, most European Jews were no longer in commerce but were part of the wage-earning working class, though still living in their own communities. But anti-Semitism, as Lenin pointed out, was based on the memory of Jews as money-lenders and merchants in feudal times even though the reality of this role had passed away. Anti-Semitism now evolved into a form of racism. And, as we know, racism is a central element in capitalist ideology, and is used to divide working people against each other.
An ideological disguise

In the 1930s, capitalism fell into total economic and social crisis the world over. Germany’s rulers handed power to Hitler, whose mission was to save the capitalist system through an anti-Jewish crusade.

Racism also provided a rationale for imperialism’s need and desire to expand and conquer new markets and sources of raw materials. Anti-Semitism now became as an ideological disguise of modern imperialism. The Nazis pursued the German ruling class’s longstanding program to conquer and colonize eastern Europe and destroy the Soviet Union , exterminating the Jewish communities as part of a massive slaughter.

If anyone here has ever looked at a $50 bill, you will see the mug of one of Canada’s prime ministers -- Mackenzie King. He warmly praised Hitler, at a time when anti-Semitism was endemic in Canada. His views were openly expressed in Canada’s racist immigration policy.
The Zionist project

Zionism arose as a response to this second wave of anti-Semitism. Zionism is a secular political strategy, not a religious belief system. It was a call to the Jews who suffered unrelenting persecution to find a new homeland outside Europe.

At first, Zionism was a minority current among Jewish people in Europe, less influential among the workers than socialist organizations like the Bund and the Russian Bolsheviks and Mensheviks who looked to the world working-class movement for liberation. Zionism gained strength through the experience of Nazism, which encompassed not only the Nazi annihilation of the Jewish communities in most of Europe but the collusion of Canada, the U.S., and other Allied governments in denying refuge to the persecuted Jews. Zionists pointed to the World War II exterminations and discrimination as proof that Jews who lived in the Diaspora needed their own country to live in peace without persecution.

But, where did the Zionists get the idea that they could settle in a land already occupied by Palestinians? They got it from their sponsors and tutors, the colonizing powers – Britain, the United States, France, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands – who had been colonizing the world for centuries.

Zionism became an integral part of the imperialist drive in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to subjugate and colonize the Middle East. In 1916, British imperialism gave official support to the Zionist project in order to further Britain’s plans for conquest. As Theodore Herzl, founder of modern Zionism said,

“We should be there (in Palestine) to form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”

Following the Second World War, the imperialists sponsored the formation of the state of Israel in order to obtain a stronghold against the rise of Arab nationalism and to strengthen their grip on Mideast oil.
Anti-Semitism today

Today, official anti-Semitism in Canada and other imperialist countries has been dismantled. There is no longer a quota for Jewish admission to Canadian universities. Immigration policy no longer discriminates against Jews. Jews are now admitted to all Toronto’s golf clubs. It is no longer against the law in Toronto to make a speech in Yiddish.

These are gains of by the working class in its struggle against discrimination. But anti-Semitism persists as a component of racist ideology. It remains part of the baggage of radical rightist groups, and is expressed, although cautiously, by influential right-wing politicians like Patrick Buchanan in the U.S. or Jean-Marie Le Pen in France.

However, when capitalism once again feels the need to breath life into such currents, anti-Semitism will be a strong part of their appeal.
Zionism breeds Anti-Semitism

Meanwhile, there is another kind of anti-Semitism at work today, arising from the Zionist state’s war against the Palestinians. The Zionist state carries out its crimes in the name of the Jewish people and conscripts Israeli Jews to enforce this oppression.

It is understandable that many victims of Zionism feel resentment against Jews. The crimes of Zionism have made it possible for reactionary forces to use the anti-Zionist feelings as the bases for anti-Semitic demagogy, which tends to divert and weaken the Palestinian struggle. But this is not the same thing as the anti-Semitism that is part of imperialist ideology.
Who is the enemy?

The enemy is Zionism and imperialism, not the Jewish people. The Palestinian liberation movement itself has never been motivated by anti-Semitism. It simply wants the right for the Palestinian people to live in peace on their native land. And the Arab communities of North Africa and the Middle East had no share in guilt for the Holocaust, which is today misused and abused to justify Zionist oppression. Yet Zionist aggression has sparked widespread anti-Jewish feelings in the Mideast today.

This problem finds expression in the imperialist countries as well. For example, the Jewish community of France is now subject to harassment and acts of violence not only from France’s own anti-Semitic movements, but on occasion from individuals of Arab origin who wrongly identify Jews with the oppression and discrimination they suffer in France.

Imperialism jumps on such discussions to build hatred of Islamic peoples. Sometimes, it resorts to sheer invention. For example, the National Post (May 19, 2006) fans the flames of working class divisions and antagonisms with a sensationally featured report headlined, “Iran Eyes Badges for Jews.” The next day, the Post shamefacedly admitted – under much smaller headline – that the report was entirely without foundation. It offered no apology.

The best response to this problem is to redouble solidarity, especially within the Jewish community, with the Palestinians and with Muslim victims of oppression in the imperialist countries such as in France, the U.S., and Canada. We must also oppose every manifestation of Islamophobia—another attempt by imperialism to use racism to divide working people. It has used 9/11 to launch a witch hunt against the peoples of the Middle East. We should defend the five Muslims who have been detained and jailed for years in Canada on “secret” evidence of conspiracy in 9/11. We should stand for equal rights for the Islamic people who wish to practice their religion. We should oppose Canada’s dirty war in Afghanistan.

Do Zionists run the U.S. government?

We often say, “Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic.” But there’s a form of anti-Zionism today supported by some on the Left that opens the door to anti-Semitism. This is the argument that Zionists control U.S. foreign policy.

A paper by Harvard academic dean Stephen Walt and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy promotes the theory that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is manipulated by a Jewish lobby with support from a network of “neoconservative gentiles.” The paper has aroused wide controversy. Walt and Mearsheimer, longtime spokespersons for U.S. foreign policy, seek to absolve themselves from responsibility for its failures. Israel and its supporters are being used as convenient scapegoats for America’s disastrous policies in the Middle East.

This is what we should expect from pro-imperialist theorists. More surprising, however, is the fact that some of the left echo these views. James Petras, a professor and a well-known writer identified with Marxist views, explains that Jews are disproportionately represented among finance capitalists resulting in an equally disproportionate Jewish influence over U.S. foreign policy. His recent article, “The Tyranny of Israel Over America,” quotes anonymous FBI “sources” to claim “large-scale deep penetration of American society and the government by Israeli spies and their collaborators.” He goes on to say that a “a significant affluent minority of prominent Jewish banking and real estate millionaires are active in financing and promoting Israeli policy either directly or through pro-Israel lobbies.”

These agents, Petras says, fed “disinformation” to persuade Washington to launch the war against Iraq. Petras describes the invasion of Iraq as a war “in the service of Israel” that went against “U.S. good sense and national interest.” He calls for the “re-founding of an American Republic ‘free from foreign entanglements.’”

Petras’s views have been endorsed by one of Canada’s prominent left publications, Canadian Dimension. These views are shared also on the U.S. left-wing website Counterpunch.
Can the tail wag the dog?

How is it possible for the tiny Israeli state to force the world’s mightiest empire to act against its own interests? How can the tail wag the dog? Petras admits this is a “paradox.” The explanation, he says, “is found in the powerful and influential role of pro-Israeli Jews in strategic sectors of the U.S. economy, political parties, Congress and executive branch.”

What is this but a cleaned-up version of the notorious anti-Semitic theory of a world Jewish conspiracy? This conspiracy theory leaves the U.S. capitalist class and the profit system off the hook as the root cause of the ruinous conditions imposed on working people worldwide. And it encourages Jew-hatred and American nationalism.

Surely, there is a rational, obvious explanation for the close U.S. alliance with Israel: Hasn’t Israel proven to be a reliable and an effective defender of U.S. interests in the Mideast? Surely the Iraq war has a more obvious explanation than a Zionist plot: Isn’t it a result of Washington’s drive to conquer the oil-rich Middle East?

U.S. imperialism’s foreign policy, far from being hijacked by some small country, is controlled by and represents the interests of a class: the wealthy billionaire families and industrialists who rule the U.S., including both their parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
Zionism threatens Jewish survival

Zionism represents a dangerous trap for the Jewish people. It maintains that Israel is a secure and necessary haven for Jews in this world. But Israel’s existence is based on the conquest of the majority by a minority and that it must protect its conquest by reliance on imperialism. It cannot exist without the assistance of U.S. imperialism -- and imperialism is a dying system.

Zionim is a trap for the Jews. Today, Israel is the most dangerous place in the world for Jews to live.

Many Israelis recoil at the suggestion of a parallel with South Africa’s apartheid system of institutionalized racism because it stabs at the heart of how they see themselves and their country, founded after centuries of hatred, pogroms and ultimately genocide. But hope for the Jews lies in making common cause with other victims of oppression. This is shown by my personal experience.

I was born to a Jewish family in France during the Second World War. The French Vichy government was then rounding up Jews, solely because of their religious and ethnic background, and deporting them to Hitler's concentration camps. That's how my mother landed in Auschwitz and died in the gas chamber.

I am alive today, like thousands of other Jewish children of the time, thanks to the anti-Nazi resistance in France. My mother had providently put me in the care of the Jewish resistance organization, itself part of a broader working-class resistance alliance. They placed me in the hands of a courageous peasant family, who hid me until the Liberation.

The resistance united people of many political persuasions and religious beliefs: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – for there were many Muslims in the French resistance. It united Jews with socialists and other anti-Nazi fighters. It saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children in France. And this resistance struck heavy blows against French anti-Semitism, which are felt to this day.

Today we must join in a similar broad alliance , this time to defend the Palestinians and to oppose Zionism and imperialism. In doing this, we also strike blows against anti-Semitism. The Zionists’ aggressive policies in the Middle East are against the interests of Jewish people and Palestinians alike, all of whom have a stake in a peaceful and united Middle East. Palestinian liberation offers the Jewish people in the Middle East the prospect of brotherhood and peace.

As Lenin said in the message I quoted earlier,

“Shame on those who foment hatred toward the Jews, who foment hatred toward other nations. Long live the fraternal trust and fighting alliance of the workers of all nations in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.”

See also by Suzanne Weiss - Holocaust survivor responds to Zionism


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in this piece as an anti-Zionist Jew in Britain with many Toronto family connections. Thanks for publishing it Derek.

I agree with its motivation though I have questions about some of its content.

Her explanation of antisemitism follows a very orthodox reading of the young Trotskyist Abram Leon (himself a Holocaust victim) - which has been challenged by other marxists as very mechanistic and only true about certain Jewish communities at certain times. We need a broader, deeper framework to understand the depth of antisemitism in Western culture especially and to understand how it can transmogrify into genocidal variants.

No doubt Lenin was a sincere opponent of antisemitism. But that didn't stop him from internalising commonly held culturally chauvinist attitudes in Russia towards Jews and Jewish/Yiddish culture, revealed in some of his polemics with the Bund.

Suzanne says: "Today, official anti-Semitism in Canada and other imperialist countries has been dismantled... But anti-Semitism persists as a component of racist ideology. It remains part of the baggage of radical rightist groups, and is expressed, although cautiously, by influential right-wing politicians like Patrick Buchanan in the U.S. or Jean-Marie Le Pen in France."

She is right to note its persistence but I would hardly call Buchanan and Le Pen or others on the far right in various countries cautious about expressing antisemitic attitudes.

Her analysis of Zionism is more convincing. But whereas it is true that the victims of Zionism will inevitably feel anger and hatred towards their aggressors it is surely the duty of the left within and in solidarity with these struggles to NOT be understanding when this is expressed in antisemitic terms.

Also it is incumbent on the left to recognise that reactionary politics in what imperialism terms "the Middle East" has its own political roots and its own agency and is not just a reaction to western aggression. Zioinism may be the pretext but it is not the cause or justification for antisemitism.

The former PLO rep in London, Afif Safieh, always expressed it very well when he said that antisemitism is as much an enemy of the Palestinians and their struggle as it is an enemy of the Jews."

Derek Wall said...

Thanks David for your instructive comments

Jim Denham said...

The view that has been expressed in no way excuses the anti-semitic view (now widely held on the British "left"), that Israel has no right to exist. It does: and people who say otherwise are, sim[ly nati-semites.

When Keir Starmer was a Marxist.

Canvassing in Brighton back in 2017 to support Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’s re-election efforts, I knocked on a door and came acros...