By Gilad Atzmon
In his book Memories, the first Israeli PM and pragmatic early Zionist, David Ben Gurion writes about his early years in Płońsk, Poland.
“For many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our (Zionist) dedication. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution. Płońsk was remarkably free of it… There were three main communities: Russians, Jews and Poles. … The number of Jews and Poles in the city were roughly equal, about five thousand each. The Jews, however, formed a compact, centralized group occupying the innermost districts whilst the Poles were more scattered, living in outlying areas and shading off into the peasantry.
“Consequently, when a gang of Jewish boys met a Polish gang the latter would almost inevitably represent a single suburb and thus be poorer in fighting potential than the Jews who even if their numbers were initially fewer could quickly call on reinforcements from the entire quarter. Far from being afraid of them (the goyim), they were rather afraid of us (the Jews). In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant.” (Memoirs: David Ben-Gurion (1970), p. 36)
Ben Gurion is very explicit when describing the balance of power between Jews and Poles in his town in the early days of the 20th century. “Far from being afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us (the Jews).”
Jews were indeed very powerful in Poland in the first years of the 20th century. The Jewish socialist party, the Bund, was a leading political force in the 1905 Revolution particularly in the Polish areas of the Russian empire. In the early stages of that Revolution, the Bund’s military wing was the strongest revolutionary force in Western Russia.
The Vow, the Bund’s anthem didn’t leave much room for imagination, it declared war and practically sentenced to death those who didn’t fit with their political agenda:
“We swear our stalwart hate persists,
Of those who rob and kill the poor:
The Tsar, the masters, capitalists.
Our vengeance will be swift and sure.
So swear together to live or die!”
“To wage the holy war we vow,
Until right triumphs over wrong.
No Midas, master, noble now –
The humble equal to the strong.
So swear together to live or die!”
The Bund was extremely confident of its power. In the autumn of 1933 it issued a call to the Polish public to boycott goods from Germany in protest of Hitler and the NSDAP. In December 1938 and January 1939, in the last Polish municipal elections before the start of WWII, the Bund received the largest segment of the Jewish vote. In 89 towns, one-third elected Bund majorities. In Warsaw, the Bund won 61.7% of the votes cast for Jewish parties, taking 17 of the 20 municipal council seats won by Jewish parties. In Łódź the Bund won 57.4% (11 of 17 seats won by Jewish parties).
We now know that this sense of victorious Jewish empowerment ended shortly after these elections. The East European and Polish Jewish communities suffered greatly during WWII. The Bund was completely wiped out during the war. For one reason or another and, as problematic as it may be for some, at least in the early stages of the war, some Poles, Ukrainians and other East European nationalists saw the Nazis as their ‘liberators.’ They apparently weren’t blind to the reality that was depicted by Ben Gurion.
This sense of Jewish political and social empowerment that is portrayed in Ben Gurion’s Memories and in the story of the Bund created a problematic pattern, as it clearly led to some tragic consequences.
In his conclusive work on the Holocaust, Jewish historian David Cesarani delved briefly into the work of the CV, (Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens – the central association of German citizens of the Jewish faith).
It would be a crude act of denial to fail to see the overwhelming similarity between the CV that was formed in 1893 and the likes of the ADL, SPLC, CRIF, the BOD and the CAA. Cesarani writes about the CV that it was formed “to combat the lies propagated by anti-Semites and oppose them when they stood for election.” Clearly, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Cynthia McKinney weren’t the first politicians to be targeted by dedicated Jewish pressure groups. The CV was using the same tactics over a century ago.
Cesarani continues: “over the next two decades, the CV proved quite effective: suing rabble rousers for defamation, funding candidates pledged to contest anti-Semitism, producing voluminous amounts of educational material about Judaism and Jewish life, and coordinating the activity of sympathetic non-Jews ashamed of prejudice within their communities.” (Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949, David Cesarani pg.10)
Like the ADL and AIPAC in the USA, and the CAA in Britain, the CV saw its popularity amongst Jews grow rapidly. By 1926 more than 60.000 German Jews were amongst its members, however, there is a good reason to believe that the more popular the CV was amongst Jews, the less popular Jews and their politics were to Germans. We can observe that the ADL and CAA are not marching in virgin territory, there is historical documentation that points out that abrasive Jewish pressure politics have, in the past, helped lead to catastrophic consequences.
The Jewish Virtual Library produces a fascinating glimpse into the CV’s activity. In 1934 when the Nazi Party was already in power, the Party made no attempt to conceal its anti Jewish sentiments, yet, the CV, apparently in a state of complete denial, ignored the political shift in Germany and continued to pursue its pressure politics.
Following is a report by the CV from 26 April 1934:
“To the Regional branches:
Friends from small and middle sized towns have recently complain that songs with coarse anti-Jewish texts are being sung brazenly and provocatively. We intend to officially approach the Reich Ministry and report all these incidents and to address a letter of the board to the SA Chief and Reich Minister Roehm and to the Prussian Secret State Police. A representative of the CV will also raise this matter with the Propaganda Ministry. We therefore ask to report as soon as possible: In what localities such songs are being sung. What songs are being sung. Who is doing the singing.
The point I am trying to make should be obvious. Harassing, terrorising and abusing one’s host nation into submission may produce some results in the short term, however, in the long run, it may not be the best way to fight anti Jewish sentiments. As Jewish history in general and the holocaust in particular prove, it may be the most dangerous path Jews can take.
‘History,’ we are told, ‘never repeats itself.’ Yet, for one reason or another, we are all expected to draw the right lessons from Jewish history. We are to vow ‘never again.’ We are to pledge to fight racism and discrimination.
Most surprising then, that the Jews, at large, never learn from their own past. One wonders, what is it about the ADL, AIPAC, BOD, Crif, CAA and other Jewish organisations that set them on a political path that has proven to be catastrophic?
One possible answer is collective ignorance. It is reasonable to assume that many Jews do not know or understand their own history and instead concentrate, if at all, on Jewish suffering (the holocaust, the inquisition, rise in Antisemitism, pogroms, etc.) rather than attempting to grasp the chain of events that led to such unfortunate consequences. In other words, they fail to see the connection between bad behaviour and antisemitism.
This may imply that if things, God forbid, turn sour for American Jewry tomorrow, Jews in the future will not examine the multiple disastrous headlines associated with some prominent American Jews and leading Jewish institutions. Accordingly, they will not see the negative impact of the bad behaviour of such characters as Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, Ehud Barak, Les Wexner, Harvey Weinstein or George Soros.
They will not see the need to examine, let alone explain, the vast over-representation of Jews on NYC’s slumlord list or in America’s worst Ponzi schemes. Jews won’t look into the negative impact of the ADL or the SPLC. Nor will they dare dig into the disastrous impact of Israel and AIPAC on American Foreign Policy.
Jews won’t look into these for the same reasons that Jews work hard to prevent everyone, Jews included, from understanding the role of Jews and Jewish institutions in contributing to antisemitism in the Weimar republic or in 19th century Eastern Europe.
Another possible answer is that Jewish political institutions are very sophisticated and far more strategic than we are willing to admit. Perhaps The ADL, the CAA, AIPAC and other Jewish pressure groups actually fully understand Jewish history. They do understand the possible dangerous implications of their actions.
However they genuinely believe that constant tension between Jews and their host nations is actually ‘good for the Jews.’ How could it be good for the Jews? It prevents assimilation and unnecessary intermingling. It enforces Jewish identification, it evidently reinforces the importance of Israel and promotes Jewish immigration to and support for the Jewish State.
Another possible answer is more fatalistic. In this Jews do not follow a ‘strategic plan’, nor they are ‘blind to their past.’ They simply can’t do much about their destiny as they are shaped individually and collectively by a unique and persistent tribal cultural-spiritual paradigm. It is this tribal precept that sustains their clannish and exclusionist behavioural mode and also their affinity to biological determinist views.
I guess that it is this last answer that led to the birth of Zionist thought in the late 19th century. Zionism accepted that Jewish diaspora culture and attitude was deeply unhealthy. Early Zionists agreed amongst themselves that it is Jews and their cultural code, rather than the so-called ‘antisemites’ who bring disasters on the Jews. Zionism vowed to ‘civilise’ the Jews by means of a ‘homecoming’. It promised to make them “people like all other people.”
Theodor Herzl (1860 –1904) the author of political Zionism who is regarded by Jews and Israelis as Zionism’s forefather, didn’t pull his punches in his attitude to Diaspora Jewry. “The wealthy Jews” Herzl wrote, “control the world, in their hands lies the fate of governments and nations. They set governments one against the other. When the wealthy Jews play, the nations and the rulers dance. One way or the other, they get rich.” Theodor Herzl, Deutsche Zeitung 4 min’ 47 sec’ in the following Hebrew video:
Herzl didn’t refer to AIPAC, ADL, Soros or the CAA. He didn’t know about Corbyn, Dershowitz, Sanders or Epstein and his Lolita Express’ long list of passengers. Yet Herzl managed to identify a very problematic Jewish identitarian pattern which he pledged to alter by means of a ‘Zionist metamorphosis.’
A prime Labour Zionist ideologist, A.D. Gordon (1856 –1922) referred to his brethren as ‘a parasitic people’ who have “no roots in the soil.” Like Herzl, Gordon also believed that Jews could be re-invented and become proletarians.
Dov Ber Borochov (1881-1917), the leading theoretical Jewish Marxist ideologist who inspired Labour Zionism, was also disgusted by Jewish Diaspora parasitic tendencies. “The enterprising spirit of the Jew is irrepressible. He refuses to remain a proletarian. He will grab at the first opportunity to advance to a higher rung in the social ladder.” (The Economic Development of the Jewish People, Ber Borochov, 1916).
Maybe it is time to admit that early Zionism was a unique and profound instant in Jewish history. It was the only moment in time when Jews were brave enough to look in the mirror and to admit that they were repulsed by what they saw. A similar sense of self-loathing can be detected in sermons of the Biblical prophets, but early Zionism evolved into a powerful Jewish movement.
By means of self-loathing, it managed to achieve its objectives. It fulfilled its promise to establish a Jewish National homeland in Palestine, even if It did so at the expense of the Palestinian people whose land it plundered. On the face of it, Zionism made the Jews people like all other people, failing to see that all other people weren’t trying to be like all other people but were like themselves.
The first Israelis bought into the ideas of Herzl, Gordon and Borochov. They believed in the possibility of Jewish metamorphosis. But it didn’t take long before the Zionists realised that for Jewishness to survive, Goyim are needed. Why? Because Jewishness is basically different manifestations of choseness, and choseness cannot operate in a vacuum for the same reason that progressives need ‘reactionaries,’ and supremacists need people to look down upon.
It didn’t take long for the early Zionists to make the Palestinians and Arabs their new Goyim. It didn’t take more than a few decades for Israeli Jews to give up completely on the dream of a new Hebraic civilisation. By the 1990s Benjamin Netanyahu realised that it was Jewishness that united the Israelis. Israel under his leadership drifted rapidly from the Zionist dream. It morphed safely into a ‘Jewish State.’
On a personal note I admit that, like many of my peers, in my early years I bought into the Zionist ethos. I fell in love with the idea of a Jewish nationalist rebirth. It was pretty convenient to see the Biblical kings and prophets as my ‘ancestors.’
My understanding of the Zionist revolutionary impetus was reinforced when I toured around the world as a young musician playing Jewish music in diaspora communities. I realised that I shared very little or nothing at all with those Diaspora Jews and their cultural/political ethos. I guess that I took the Zionist dream very seriously, I vowed to become a nice, ethical human being. By the time my project was more or less accomplished, I gathered that I, as a nice adult, was basically an ordinary goy like all other goyim, I was a Jew no more.
The absurdity here is that together with just a few others including: Uri Avnery, Gideon Levy, Israel Shamir, Israel Shachak, Shlomo Sand, I am probably amongst the last of the Zionists. I guess that we are the few who managed to unshackle themselves, to break out of the ghetto walls and to cross the rough sea between Jerusalem and Athens.
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history, have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than the music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”