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Lenni BRENNER

ZIONISM IN THE AGE OF DICTATORS

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13

 

CHOOSING THE CHOSEN PEOPLE-THE DOCTRINE OF 'ZIONIST CRUELTY'

 

The statistics on Jewish emigration from Germany vary to some degree, depending on the authority, but broadly speaking they tally. Herbert Strauss, for one, estimates that there were 270,000-300,000 émigrés in all, of whom 30,000 perished in their presumed countries of refuge.[(1)] Yehuda Bauer reckons there were 44,537 legal emigrants to Palestine from Germany and Austria from 1933 to 1938 --'about 20 per cent' of all Jewish immigrants.[(2)] The Encyclopedia Judaica reckons 55,000 went to Palestine by 1939.[(3)] Fawzi Abu-Diab lists only 39,131 German immigrants from l919 to 1945, but his low German listing is qualified by Mandate and Jewish Agency categories of 'authorised travellers', 'stateless' and 'unspecified', many of whom were German domiciled in those years.[(4)] In comparison the Encyclopedia Judaica estimates 63,000 emigrants went to the United States, 40,000 to the United Kingdom, 30,000 to France, 25,000 to Belgium and 25,000 to Argentina.[(5)] The International Settlement in Shanghai took in about 16,000 from 1938 to 1941, and South Africa let in 5,000.[(6)]

It was the British, not the Zionists, who determined the immigration policy for Palestine, using a combination of political considerations --for example, an evaluation of the reaction of the Arabs, and relatively objective computations related to the absorptive capacity of the Jewish economy. Each year a quota would be set and the precious immigration certificates were given to the WZO. There were always political criteria for would-be immigrants. Communists were always barred and 6 per cent of the certificates had to be given to the anti-Zionist Agudaists but, on the other hand, £1,000 capitalists were always allowed entry over the quota. Until the 1936 Arab revolt compelled the Mandatory to drastically lower immigration, the Jewish Agency never seriously challenged London over the proposed figures or the economic rationales behind them.

The WZO's own immigration policy had slowly evolved. Before the First World War, most immigrants came from Russia, but the Bolshevik revolution eventually closed that source; in the post-war era it was Poland that provided the largest contingent of settlers. The anti-Semitic line of the Polish Endek government encouraged thousands of artisans and lower-middle-class Jews to consider emigration. Refused entry to America because of its new immigration restrictions, they turned to Palestine, and their capital influx soon produced a land boom as Tel Aviv lots were hawked in the market-places of Warsaw. The Jewish National Fund, which organised the agricultural colonies of the WZO, was also compelled to pay exorbitant prices for its own land requirements. Tel Aviv did expand as a result of the new immigration, but primarily as independent Polish artisans moved in: the old patriarch with his extended family working a few handlooms. The Poles were solving their own problems, but their tiny establishments could never become the basis of a Zionist economy, an absolute essential if they were ever to wrest the country from the Arabs. Eventually the land boom collapsed, leading to the ruin of many of the little shopkeepers and large unemployment in the building trades; although the fall in prices suited the JNF, they now had to cope with the needs of the unemployed.

The experience produced drastic policy changes, and it was determined that they could not afford the social costs of petty-bourgeois immigration. As early as 1924 Weizmann began to denounce the new settlers, whom he saw as carrying with them 'the atmosphere of the ghetto', and he warned that 'we are not building our National Home on the model of Djika and Nalevki... here we have reached home and are building for eternity'.[(7)]

It was the policy of 'no Nalevki' --the great ghetto of Warsaw-- that turned Zionism away from the mass of ordinary Jews, who were not Zionist for the most part, and even from the ranks of the Diaspora Zionist movement. They lacked the skills and resources needed in Palestine, and henceforward Zionism would no longer serve them; immigrants would be selected strictly to the advantage of Zion. In Palestine itself the WZO decided that the unemployed should be encouraged to re-emigrate so as to save the outlay on unemployment benefits.[(8)] Strong preference began to be shown for the collectivist kibbutzim of the Labour Zionist tendencies as an alliance developed between Weizmann's circle, who, though bourgeois themselves, were desperately looking to cut the costs of colonisation, and the leftists who had a vision of a generation of 'healthy' Jews, no longer in 'Diaspora' occupations, building a socialist nation on its own land. Their youthful pioneers had turned their backs on the values of their middleclass families and would endure great economic privations for the good of the cause. Zionism became a tough-minded utopia which helped the image of the Jew, but did not attempt to solve any of the problems of the Jewish masses in Europe.

 

'The Cruel Criteria of Zionism'

 

The week of terror unleashed against the Jews by the Nazis' victory in the elections of March 1933 had brought thousands on to the streets outside the Palestine Office in Berlin, but there was still no desire to turn Palestine into a genuine refuge. Emigration had to continue to serve the needs of Zionism. Only young, healthy, qualified and committed Zionists were wanted. The Gemman HaChalutz Pioneers declared unrestricted emigration to Palestine to be a 'Zionist crime'.[(9)]] Enzo Sereni, then the Labour Zionist emissary in Germany, laid down their criteria:

 

Even in this difficult hour we must allot most of the 1,000 immigration certificates to pioneers. This may seem cruel, but even if the British were to grant 10,000 certificates instead of the 1,000 they are giving us now, we would still say: Let the young people go, for even if they suffer less than the older ones, they are better fitted for the task in Palestine. Children can later bring their parents, but not the other way around.[(10)]

 

Weizmann had overall charge of emigration from Germany between 1933 and his re-election to the presidency in 1935. His report in January 1934 listed some of the standards used for choosing prospective immigrants. Those who were 'over 30, and possess no capital and no special qualifications cannot be absorbed in Palestine unless specific openings for the work they did in Germany are found'.[(11)] On 26 April he specifically excluded several important groupings from serious consideration as immigrants: 'former businessmen, commercial travellers, artists, and musicians will this time hardly be eligible for certificates'.[(12)] Most German Jews were simply not wanted in Palestine, they were either too old, or their occupation did not fit the country's needs, or they spoke no Hebrew and were not committed ideologically. Among themselves the Zionist leadership was quite frank about what they were doing. In 1933 Berl Katznelson, then editing the Histadrut's daily newspaper, Davar, reflected their mentality: 'we know that we are not able to transfer all of German Jewry and will have to choose on the basis of the cruel criteria of Zionism'. In 1935 Moshe Sharett (Shertok) again declared that circumstances obliged them to treat Diaspora Jewry with a degree of cruelty.'[(13)] The Israeli scholar Abraham Margaliot has written about a speech given by Weizmann before the Zionist Executive in 1935:

 

he declared that the Zionist movement would have to choose between the immediate rescue of Jews and the establishment of a national project which would ensure lasting redemption for the Jewish people. Under such circumstances, the movement, according to Weizmann, must choose the latter course.[(14)]

 

The British --reacting to Arab pressures against all immigration, and diplomatic interventions from Poland, Romania and other anti-Semitic regimes in Eastern Europe in favour of increased quotas, as well as the economic needs of the country-- determined just how many and what economic categories of Jews could enter in any given year. However, the British never required anyone to know Hebrew, nor did they care if a would-be immigrant was a non-Zionist. Nor did they concern themselves with where the immigrants came from; London would have been pleased if the WZO had chosen fewer Americans and more Germans. Given the political realities of the Mandate, Zionist emigration could never have been the way out for the entire German Jewry but, within the strictures imposed by the British, Zion did not ever want to be the salvation of German Jewry.

Who, then, were given certificates by the fourteen Palestine Offices around the world? According to Abu-Diab's statistics, 27,289 Jews entered Palestine as legal immigrants in 1933; 36,619 in 1934; and 55,407 in 1935, making a total of 119,315 for the three-year period. Of these 18,206 were listed as German.[(15)] Additional immigrants who had been domiciled in Germany came in as Poles and other nationalities. There were 1,979 of these in 1935.[(16)] During those three years the largest national component of Jewish immigration was Polish, 42.56 per cent in 1934 and 44.12 per cent in 1935.[(17)] Polish anti-Semitism was chronic during those years, and the decision to give Poles more certificates than Germans can be rationalised; but during those same years no less than 3,743 immigrants came from the United States and an additional 579 from the rest of the western hemisphere. British Jewry's contingent was 513 and Africa sent 213 immigrants.[(18)] Turkey provided 1,259 in 1934-5. The combined figure for Britain, the western hemisphere, Africa and Turkey during those years was 6,307. Even if the Polish statistics can be defended, these cannot. Not one of these Jews required rescue and, indeed, no one pretended that rescue played any part in their selection. They were picked because they were Zionists, and primarily because of their youth and training. During those same three years, two-thirds of all German Jews who applied for certificates were turned down.[(19)]

 

'No Jewish Organisation would... Sponsor a Bill'

 

Since they did not want the bulk of German Jewry in Palestine, it might be assumed that the Zionist movement, at least in America, tried to find other havens for their brethren, but this is not so. Throughout the world, the Jewish bourgeoisie acted timidly out of fear that 'too many, refugees in any country would unleash local anti-Semitism. Sending the refugees to Palestine seemed to be the perfect answer and the American Jewish press condemned the British quotas in Palestine, although it maintained a discreet silence about America's own tight restrictions.

It was the Austrian anschluss in March 1938 that finally unleashed Nazi violence against the Jews. Two Democratic congressmen, Dickstein and Celler of New York, each proposed bills slightly liberalising the US immigration laws, but they were both dropped, without a hearing, in April 1938, after the Jewish, Christian and non-sectarian refugee agencies decided that the right wing would use the occasion to propose yet worse restrictions. The word went out to politicians: if hearings are held we might have to testify against reform.[(20)] A Communist Party front, the Jewish People's Committee, obtained a copy of one of Stephen Wise's epistles on behalf of the Jewish refugee groups, through the office of Brooklyn Democrat, Donald O'Toole. The Communists published the document in a pamphlet, Jews in Action, in an attempt to discredit their pro-British Zionist rivals at the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact. However, there is no doubt that the letter is genuine and it gives a clear indication of the mood of the Zionist movement.

 

I wish I thought that it were possible for this measure to be passed without repercussions upon the Jewish community in this country. I have every reason to believe, unfortunately, that any effort that is made at this time to waive the immigration laws, however humanitarian the purpose, will result in serious accentuation of what we know to be a rising wave of anti-Semitic feelings in the country... It may interest you to know that some weeks ago the representatives of all the leading Jewish organisations met in conference to discuss the President's proposal and other proposals which have been made to waive the immigration barrier. It was the consensus of opinion that such bills at this moment in the light of present unemployment in this country and in the light of the inspired propaganda directed against the Jewish people, and circulated throughout the country, would be injurious to the purposes which all of us would like to serve. For that reason it was decided that no Jewish organisation would at this time, sponsor a bill which would in any way alter the present immigration laws.[(21)]

 

Could the American Zionist movement have done more to try to obtain refuge for the German Jews? The answer is clearly yes. The immigration laws had been passed in 1921-4, during a wave of xenophobia, and were designed to exclude practically everyone apart from the old settler stock: the British, Irish and Germans. That actually meant a relatively high German quota, but reactionaries in the State Department and the Democratic Party deliberately misinterpreted the regulations to create barriers to Jews fully utilising the allotment. Had any kind of resolute effort been made to mobilise the Jewish masses, and the larger liberal community, there can be no doubt that Roosevelt could not have withstood that pressure. The Jews and the liberals were simply too important in his party to be refused, if they had seriously demanded proper enforcement of the regulations. However, the Zionists never launched a national campaign and only worked on individual injustices; no Zionist organisation ever did more than call for the smallest amendments to the immigration laws. Only the left, notably the Trotskyists and the Stalinists, ever demanded that the gates be thrown wide open to the Jews.

There were several reasons for the American Zionists' response to the refugee problem. In the early 1920s they had never thought of organising the Jews, together with the other ethnic communities that were discriminated against in the proposed restrictions, for a struggle against the quotas. They knew that as long as America was open to immigrants, the Jews would continue to turn their backs on povertystricken Palestine. In the 1930s many American Zionists still saw sanctuary in any other country but Palestine as offering little more than a 'nachtasylum'--a palliative at best, a danger at worst, since they believed that the Jewish immigrant always brought anti-Semitism in his wake and they feared for themselves. Anti-Semitism was quite widespread in America at that time, although, of course, the Zionist movement never sought to organise any kind of defence against physical assaults. However, it must be emphasised that American anti-Semitism was never out of control and the Jewish community as such was never in danger. No Jew was ever killed in anti-Semitic incidents at a time when the lynching of Blacks was not uncommon in the American South. Additionally, the vast majority of Zionists, and most other Jews as well, supported Roosevelt's domestic reforms and feared that raising the refugee and immigration questions would work against the Democratic Party. Assisting some of the German Jews to settle in Palestine became a convenient substitute for a genuine effort to combat anti-Semitism within the capitalist establishment in America.

 

'We Are Risking the Existence of Zionism'

 

Could Palestine ever have been the solution to the plight of the refugees? With the report of the Peel Commission in July 1937, London had seriously considered creating a Jewish statelet, but even if the British had carried this through, it would not have resolved the desperate situation, nor did the WZO pretend it would. Weizmann testified before the Commission, telling them that he was a scientist; he knew Palestine with its backward economy could not possibly sustain all of Central and Eastern Europe's Jews. He wanted two million youth, and he later told the Zionist Congress in 1937 of his testimony before the Commission:

 

The old ones will pass; they will bear their fate, or they will not They were dust, economic and moral dust, in a cruel world... Two millions, and perhaps less; 'Scheerith Hapleta' --only a branch will survive. They had to accept it. The rest they must leave to the future --to their youth. If they feel and suffer, they will find the way, 'Beacharith Hajamin' [at the end of times] .[(22)]

 

With the abandonment of the Peel proposals, Zionism ceased to have any real relevance for the Jews of Europe. The British had cut immigration in an effort to placate the Arabs, and only 61,302 Jews were allowed entry to Palestine from 1936 to 1939; the WZO allowed entry to only 17,421 from Germany. However, not even the terrible danger to the Jews of Central Europe, nor their own abandonment by their imperial patron could shake the determination of the leaders of the WZO: under no circumstances was Zionism to be shunted aside in the now frantic scramble to find havens for the desperate Jews. When, after Kristallnacht, the British, in the hope of easing the pressure for increased immigration into Palestine, proposed that thousands of children be admitted directly into Britain, Ben-Gurion was absolutely against the plan, telling a meeting of Labour Zionist leaders on 7 December 1938:

 

If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.[(23)]

 

Britain's policy was firmly fixed; there was not the slightest chance of London suddenly allowing any mass immigration into Palestine, yet Ben-Gurion persisted, refusing to contemplate other sanctuaries. On 17 December 1938 he warned the Zionist Executive:

 

If Jews will have to choose between the refugees, saving Jews from concentration camps, and assisting a national museum in Palestine, mercy will have the upper hand and the whole energy of the people will be channelled into saving Jews from various countries. Zionism will be struck off the agenda not only in world public opinion, in Britain and the United States, but elsewhere in Jewish public opinion. If we allow a separation between the refugee problem and the Palestinian problem, we are risking the existence of Zionism.[(24)]

 

Weizmann's immediate response to Kristallnacht was to propose a plan to the British Colonial Secretary that Iraq allow in 300,000 Jews for £20 million or £30 million or, better, take in 100,000 Palestinians 'whose land would then pass to Jewish immigrants'.[(25)] To use his own words on Herzl's famous negotiations with von Plevhe in 1903: 'unreality could go no further': that Iraq should let in 300,000 Jews at the behest of the Zionists and the British, or take in Palestinians so that they could be displaced by Jews! Britain had sanctioned Zionism in the Balfour Declaration for its imperial purposes; those interests had shifted, and Zionism was impotent and totally unwilling to look for altematives for the Jewish masses in their hour of destruction.

It is in the nature of things that Zionists today should put the blame on the British, and through them the Arabs, for the low number of refugees admitted into Palestine during the 1930s. But this is a selfserving argument; if the Zionists were never interested in turning Palestine into a genuine refuge, why should such a sanctuary have been any concern of either the British or the Arabs? The Palestinian attitude toward Jewish immigration into their country is easily understood. Although Britain must be condemned for abandoning the Jews of Europe, it is not for the Zionists to do it. They knew full well that imperial interest had always been behind London's patronage of their movement. They were warned repeatedly by the left that the interests of the Jewish masses and the British Empire could never be reconciled. The WZO must be held responsible for its own betrayal of German Jewry: it turned its back on them in the cause of what has been so perfectly described as their 'Tiffany's window for glittering Jews'.[(26)]

 

 

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This text is a chapter of <Zionism in the Age of the Dictators ­ a Reappraisal>, by Lenni Brenner.

The copyright (©) belongs to the author. It was published by Croom Helm, Kent (Great­Britain) and Laurence Hill, Westport, Conn. in the USA, 277 p. ISBN (GB) 0­7099­0628­5; USA (paperback) 0­88208­164­0 in 1983. This book has been out of print for years.



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