Until Begin's election victory in l977, most pro-Zionist historians dismissed Revisionism as the fanatic fringe of Zionism; certainly the more extreme 'Stern Gang', as their enemies called Avraham Stern's Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, were looked upon as of more interest to the psychiatrist than the political scientist. However, opinion toward Begin had to change when he came to power, and when he eventually appointed Yitzhak Shamir as his Foreign Minister it was quietly received, although Shamir had been operations commander of the Stern Gang.
'The Historical Jewish State on a National and Totalitarian Basis'
On the night of 31 August/1 September l939 the entire command of the Irgun, including Stern, was arrested by the British CID. When he was released, in June 1940, Stern found an entirely new political constellation. Jabotinsky had called off all military operations against the British for the duration of the war. Stern himself was willing to ally himself with the British so long as London would recognise the sovereignty of a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan. Until then, the anti-British struggle would have to continue. Jabotinsky knew that nothing would make Britain give the Jews a state in 1940, and he saw the creation of another Jewish Legion with the British Army to be the main task. The two orientations were incompatible and by September 1940 the Irgun was hopelessly split: the majority of both the command and the ranks followed Stern out of the Revisionist movement.
At birth the new group was at its greatest strength for, as Stern's policies became clearer, the ranks started drifting back into the Irgun or joined the British Army. Stern or 'Yair', as he now called himself, (after Eleazer ben Yair, the commander at Masada during the revolt against Rome) began to define his full objectives. His 18 principles included a Jewish state with its borders as defined in Genesis 15: 18 'from the brook of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,' a 'population exchange', a euphemism for the expulsion of the Arabs and, finally, the building of a Third Temple of Jerusalem.[(1 )]The Stern Group was at this time a bare majority of the military wing of Revisionism but by no means representative of the middle class Jews of Palestine who had backed Jabotinsky. Still less was the fanatic call for a new temple attractive to ordinary Zionists.
The war and its implications were on everyone's mind and the Stern Gang began to explain their unique position in a series of underground radio broadcasts
There is a difference between a persecutor and an enemy. Persecutors have risen against Israel in all generations and in all periods of our diaspora, starting with Haman and ending with Hitler... The source of all our woes is our remaining in exile, and the absence of a homeland and statehood. Therefore, our enemy is the foreigner, the ruler of our land who blocks the return of the people to it. The enemy are the British who conquered the land with our help and who remain here by our leave, and who have betrayed us and placed our brethren in Europe in the hands of the persecutor.[(2)]
Stern turned away from any kind of struggle against Hitler and even began to fantasise about sending a guerrilla group to India to help the nationalists there against Britain.[(3)] He attacked the Revisionists for encouraging Palestinian Jews to join the British Army, where they would be treated as colonial troops, 'even to the point of not being allowed to use the washrooms reserved for European soldiers'.[(4)]
Stern's single-minded belief, that the only solution to the Jewish catastrophe in Europe was the end of British domination of Palestine, had a logical conclusion. They could not defeat Britain with their own puny forces, so they looked to her enemies for salvation. They came into contact with an Italian agent in Jerusalem, a Jew who worked for the British police, and in September 1940 they drew up an agreement whereby Mussolini would recognise a Zionist state in return for Sternist co-ordination with the Italian Army when the country was to be invaded.[(5)] How seriously either Stern or the Italian agent took these discussions has been debated. Stern feared that the agreement might be part of a British provocation.[(6)] As a precaution, Stern sent Naftali Lubentschik to Beirut, which was still controlled by Vichy, to negotiate directly with the Axis. Nothing is known of his dealings with either Vichy or the Italians, but in January 1941 Lubentschik met two Germans --Rudolf Rosen and Otto von Hentig, the philo-Zionist, who was then head of the Oriental Department of the German Foreign Office. After the war a copy of the Stern proposal for an alliance between his movement and the Third Reich was discovered in the files of the German Embassy in Turkey. The Ankara document called itself a 'Proposal of the National Military Organisation (Irgun Zvai Leumi) Concerning the Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe and the Participation of the NMO in the War on the side of Germany.' (The Ankara document is dated 11 January 1941. At that point the Sternists still thought of themselves as the 'real' Irgun, and it was only later that they adopted the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel --Lohamei Herut Yisrael-- appellation.) In it the Stern group told the Nazis:
The evacuation of the Jewish masses from Europe is a precondition for solving the Jewish question; but this can only be made possible and complete through the settlement of these masses in the home of the Jewish people, Palestine, and through the establishment of a Jewish state in its historical boundaries...
The NMO, which is well-acquainted with the goodwill of the German Reich government and its authorities towards Zionist activity inside Germany and towards Zionist emigration plans, is of the opinion that:
1. Common interests could exist between the establishment of a New Order in Europe in conformity with the German concept, and the true national aspirations of the Jewish people as they are embodied by the NMO.
2. Cooperation between the new Germany and a renewed volkish-national Hebrium would be possible and
3. The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.
Proceeding from these considerations, the NMO in Palestine, under the condition the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Israeli freedom movement are recognized on the side of the German Reich, offers to actively take part in the war on Germany's side.
This offer by the NMO... would be connected to the military training and organizing of Jewish manpower in Europe, under the leadership and command of the NMO. These military units would take part in the fight to conquer Palestine, should such a front be decided upon.
The indirect participation of the Israeli freedom movement in the New Order in Europe, already in the preparatory stage, would be linked with a positive-radical solution of the European Jewish problem in conformity with the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Jewish people. This would extraordinarily strengthen the moral basis of the New Order in the eyes of all humanity.
The Sternists again emphasised: 'The NMO is closely related to the totalitarian movements of Europe in its ideology and structure.'[(7)]
Lubentschik told von Hentig that if the Nazis were politically unwilling to set up an immediate Zionist state in Palestine, the Sternists would be willing to work temporarily along the lines of the Madagascar Plan. The idea of Jewish colonies on the island had been one of the more exotic notions of the European anti-Semites before the war, and with France's defeat in 1940 the Germans revived the idea as part of their vision of a German empire in Africa. Stern and his movement had debated the Nazi Madagascar scheme and concluded that it should be supported, just as Herzl had initially backed the British offer, in 1903, of a temporary Jewish colony in the Kenya Highlands.[(8)]
There was no German follow-up on these incredible propositions, but the Sternists did not lose hope. In December 1941, after the British had taken Lebanon, Stern sent Nathan Yalin-Mor to try to contact the Nazis in neutral Turkey, but he was arrested en route. There were no further attempts to contact the Nazis.
The Stern plan was always unreal. One of the fundamentals of the German-Italian alliance was that the eastern Mediterranean littoral was to be included in the Italian sphere of influence. Furthermore, on 21 November 1941, Hitler met the Mufti and told him that although Germany could not then openly call for the independence of any of the Arab possessions of the British or French --out of a desire not to antagonise Vichy, which still ran North Africa-- when the Germans overran the Caucasus, they would swiftly move down to Palestine and destroy the Zionist settlement.
There is rather more substance to Stern's own self-perception as a totalitarian. By the late 1930s Stern became one of the ring-leaders of the Revisionist malcontents who saw Jabotinsky as a liberal with moral reservations about Irgun terror against the Arabs. Stern felt that the only salvation for the Jews was to produce their own Zionist form of totalitarianism and make a clean break with Britain which, in any case, had abandoned Zionism with the 1939 White Paper. He had seen the WZO make its own accommodation with Nazism by means of the Ha'avara; he had seen Jabotinsky entangle himself with Italy; and he personally had been intimately involved in the Revisionists, dealings with the Polish anti-Semites. However, Stern believed that all of these were only half-measures.
Stern was one of the Revisionists who felt that the Zionists, and the Jews, had betrayed Mussolini and not the reverse. Zionism had to show the Axis that they were serious, by coming into direct military conflict with Britain, so that the totalitarians could see a potential military advantage in allying themselves with Zionism. To win, Stern argued, they had to ally themselves with the Fascists and Nazis alike: one could not deal with a Petliura or a Mussolini and then draw back from a Hitler.
Did Yitzhak Yzertinsky --rabbi Shamir-- to use his underground nom de guerre, now the Foreign Minister of Israel, know of his movement's proposed confederation with Adolf Hitler? In recent years the wartime activities of the Stern Gang have been thoroughly researched by one of the youths who joined it in the post-war period, when it was no longer pro-Nazi. Baruch Nadel is absolutely certain that Yzertinsky-Shamir was fully aware of Stern's plan: 'They all knew about it.'[(9)]
When Shamir was appointed Foreign Minister, international opinion focused on the fact that Begin had selected the organiser of two famous assassinations: the killing of Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident for the Middle East, on 6 November 1944; and the slaying of Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN's special Mediator on Palestine, on 17 September 1948. Concern for his terrorist past was allowed to obscure the more grotesque notion that a would-be ally of Adolf Hitler could rise to the leadership of the Zionist state. When Begin appointed Shamir, and honoured Stern by having postage stamps issued which bore his portrait, he did it with the full knowledge of their past. There can be no better proof than this that the heritage of Zionist collusion with the Fascists and the Nazis, and the philosophies underlying it, carries through to contemporary Israel.
[(1.)] Geula Cohen, Woman of Violence, p. 232.
[(2.)] Martin Sicker, 'Echoes of a Poet', American Zionist (February 1972), pp. 32-3.
[(3.)] Chaviv Kanaan (in discussion), Germany and the Middle East 1835-1939, p. 165.
[(4.)] Eri Jabotinsky, 'A Letter to the Editor'' Zionews (27 March 1942), p. 11.
[(5.)] Izzy Cohen, 'Zionism and Anti-Semitism', (unpublished manuscript), p. 3.
[(6.)] Author's interview with Baruch Nadel, 17 February 1981.
[(7.)] 'Grundzuege des Vorschlages der Nationalen Militaerischen Organisation in Palastina (Irgun Zwei Leumi) betreffend der Loesung der juedischen Frage Europas und der aktiven Teilnahme der NMO am Kriege an der Seite Deutschlands', David Yisraeli, The Palestine Problem in German Politics 1889-1945, Bar llan University (Ramat Gan, Israel) (1974), pp. 315-17.
[(8.)] Kanaan, Cermany and the Middle East, pp. 165-6.
[(9.)] Interview with Nadel.
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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