Flirtation with Anti-Semitism

As Israeli violence rises in the Palestinian Territories, so does the flirtation with anti-Semitism among Arab opinion-makers, including writers, journalists and performers. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a Czarist forgery, often cited by Hitler, which portrays the Jews as conspiring to dominate the world) sells like hotcakes on the streets of the West Bank and in Arab capitals. A TV series based on the Protocols broke all ratings in Egypt during Ramadan last year. This year’s Ramadan featured al-Shatat ("Diaspora") on Lebanon’s Hizballah network, al-Manar; it repeated the notion of a secret Jewish global government. Old theories pop up in new guise, denying any difference between Zionism and Judaism. These prepare the ground for immoral (and unrealistic) solutions, such as support for suicide actions aimed against Jews, as the sole alternative for defeating Zionism.

Outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad, addressing the Islamic Summit on October 16, condemned the suicide actions, in fact, as unproductive. He encountered no objection from the other Muslim leaders, however, when he added these words: "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews…The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy."

Following the international uproar aroused by this remark, the Arab satellite network Aljazeera broadcast, on October 28, a program called "Opposite Directions". It included a telephone survey, in which 98% of the viewers supported the statement of Mahathir Muhammad.

The anti-Semitism that now appears in the Arab world is an antique imported from Europe, complete with stereotypes and lies. It answers the need for revenge. This need stems, broadly speaking, from the dashing of Arab hopes for a better life within the new American order, and specifically, from the abominable conditions of Palestinian life since the signing of the Oslo Accords. The new-old anti-Semitism is nourished by leaders and opinion makers as a cover for their impotence. By resorting to the stereotype of the conniving, wealthy, string-pulling, demonic Jew, they can explain the military and economic superiority of Israel, blurring the responsibility of their own regimes.


"Opposite Directions" featured Egyptian writer Ali Salem, who backs normalization with Israel, and Dr. Ibrahim Alloush, a Palestinian based in Jordan. Alloush sides with the 98%. Among Arab intellectuals, he once stood out for his progressive positions. He speaks out against imperialism. Jordan arrested him briefly because of his opposition to America’s war on Iraq. Yet his anti-Zionism takes the form of anti-Semitism. Other Arab intellectuals, for the most part, refrain from criticizing this. They shrink back before the general mood, instead of directing it along paths that are revolutionary, rational, and moral.

During the program, in defense of Mahathir Muhammad’s statement, Alloush cited figures showing the disproportional Jewish influence in America. He quoted a Jewish author, Benjamin Ginsburg: while Jews account for only 2% of the US population, they make up half the country’s billionaires and dominate the three major TV networks, the four major film studios, the NY Times etc. etc. When someone cites such figures, what is the hidden message? This: that the Jews could only have achieved such influence by nefarious methods along the lines of the Protocols.

Anti-Semitism makes strange bedfellows. Here is the "progressive" Ibrahim Alloush, taking the side of Mahathir Muhammad, who during the 22 years of his rule in Malaysia suppressed the opposition, the media, the minorities, and the migrant workers, and who supported America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In mounting the old horse of anti-Semitism, Alloush and others like him cease to view the conflict as a national one between the Zionist movement and the Arab world. They define it instead along religious-ethnic lines. They lose sight of the enemy: capitalism → imperialism → Zionism.

Judaism = Zionism? The Herzl trap

Alloush’s positions bear examination because they represent the groundswell. He opposes the "simplistic distinction," as he puts it, that progressive circles once made in saying, "We oppose Zionism, but we’re not against Jews." Alloush exclaims: "Did Zionism fall from Mars, or did it emerge from Judaism and Jews?" Leaving no doubt as to where his position leads, he continues: "When an [Israeli] Jew tells me, ‘I support the rights of the Palestinian people,’ I ask him, ‘In that case, what are you doing on my land and in my house? If you really support Palestinian rights, why don’t you leave this land?"

After identifying Zionism with Judaism, Alloush proceeds to the next step of those who believe in the insidious global power of the Jews: he calls the Holocaust a hoax. (In May 2001, we noted his fruitless attempts to hold conferences of "revisionist historians" in Beirut and Amman: see Challenge # 67.) Interviewed by the Institute for Historical Review (, Alloush said: "It should be made clear then that several hundred thousand Jews did die in the Second World War, along with tens of millions of others; that there was no Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews, but rather one of deportation, including deportation to Palestine; and that there were no gas chambers, but instead crematoria, used to incinerate the bodies of those, of all nationalities and religions, who died from all causes, but chiefly disease. The Jewish losses were not unique, and didn’t happen in an unprecedented way. They don’t justify a guilt complex in the West, and do not justify any favoritism whatsoever for the Jews."

Such revisionism is grotesque and reprehensible. It also strengthens the case for Israel. The logic goes thus: There was no Holocaust, so there is no need for Israel. As if the Holocaust does justify Israel! As if the genocide perpetrated by Europeans does justify the dispossession of the Palestinians! There are sufficient reasons to oppose Zionism without whitewashing the most abominable crime that European fascism ever committed.

Zionism justifies itself by the notion that Jews as such have no place among the Gentile nations. In contrast with other religions, they say, Judaism contains a national component, and the Jews must have, therefore, a "Jewish State". Now here comes Alloush, claiming that Judaism does indeed have a national component, namely Zionism, and demonstrating how unwanted Jews are. All this serves the Zionist cause, bolstering the apparent need for a Jewish state.

Nothing in Judaism necessarily gives rise to Zionism. The latter arose, indeed, within the history of the Jewish people, but the connection comes no closer. The prayers for a return to Zion and the restoration of the Temple are linked to the Messianic age (which is why, for decades, most ultra-orthodox Jews opposed Zionism). A secular national movement, Zionism exploited the Jewish question and anti-Semitism as ideological covers for colonial settlement at the expense of another people. It needed a big pretext. Earlier colonial movements had managed to dominate foreign regions, enslaving or expelling the natives, under the guise of bringing Christianity. The Zionist movement, however, came awkwardly late, when colonialism was on the wane. By 1948, ethnic cleansing was considered a war crime.

For an accurate analysis of Zionism’s origins, Arab pundits would do well to read Abram Leon, a Jewish Marxist murdered by the Nazis in 1944. In his book, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (), Leon argued that Zionism was "the ideology of the Jewish petty bourgeoisie, suffocating between feudalism in ruins and capitalism in decay" (Chapter 7, p. 16). In feudal Eastern Europe, he wrote, the Jews occupied an indispensable position between the aristocracy and the peasantry. When feudalism broke down, they left the towns and moved to the cities. As long as capitalism thrived, they fared well, seeking assimilation, not thinking of Zion. In the mid-19th century, however, capitalism (caught between overproduction and shrinking demand) began to decline in Europe, intensifying the search for markets abroad (imperialism). In the mother countries, the non-Jewish petty bourgeoisie (who could not invest abroad like the big bourgeoisie) began to compete with their Jewish counterparts. (Polish anti-Semites called this the "conquest of business positions" [Leon, 7:3-4].) In these circumstances, the modern capitalist version of anti-Semitism struck root, though it soon began to feed off the vestiges of older forms. Squeezed out of their shops and crafts, some Jews from the petty bourgeoisie looked to "Zion", adopting European notions of nationalism, and the movement was born. It sought to ride into Palestine on the back of empire, first the Turkish, then the British. "An evil cannot be suppressed," writes Leon, "without destroying its causes. But Zionism wishes to resolve the Jewish question without destroying capitalism, which is the principal source of the suffering of the Jews."

Zionism as an offshoot of imperialism

Abed Alwahab Almasiri, an expert on Jewish history, has published a book entitled, The Protocols, Judaism and Zionism (Cairo 2003). This progressive, scholarly work is exceptional: it argues against the prejudices that are presently rife in the Arab world.

Almasiri explains: "Zionism’s use of violence [in the Palestinian Territories] is a natural product of the racist, imperialistic culture in whose framework this movement has acted. Zionism became an accomplished fact only with the full realization of western imperialism, and it continues to act within this framework. It comprehends the world according to the imperialist political map."

"Herzl," adds Almasiri, "understood that the West could get rid of the Jews by steering them to a place beyond its borders. He understood that the only recourse was to appeal to Western imperialism as the sole mechanism that could make his Zionist colonial project work."

Almasiri finds the reason for the power of the Zionist lobby in the services that Zionism performs for American imperial interests. He adds: "The Zionist movement is not part of Jewish history. It is not part of the Torah or Talmud, despite the use it has made of this window dressing. Zionism belongs to the history of western imperialism. It is the latter’s solution to the Jewish question."

The connection of Zionism and capitalism is also a theme in a recent book by Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan, m’revachei milhama l’dividendim shel shalom, (Jerusalem, Carmel 2001, p. 479. Cf. pp. 354-56 in the English version, From War Profits to Peace Dividends, London, Pluto Press, 2002):

"The developments of the 1990’s herald the end of the Zionist ethos. In the course of the 20th century, the Zionist movement went hand in hand with capitalist development in the world. As a dominant ideology, it succeeded in merging ‘national’ interests with processes of capital accumulation. In the form of political parties, it managed to blunt class conflicts, while mobilizing a heterogeneous population of immigrants for constant warfare against common national enemies. In its political form it aided in creating a war-oriented capitalism that proved to be among the best organized in the world. The ruling class in Israel crystallized during the course of Zionist history, changing the means of its rule from the colonial period, through statist institutions, then through its emergence as the dominant capital group, up to its current transnationalism. Only at the end of 1990’s do we see, for the first time, a contradiction between, on the one hand, the transnational interests of the dominant capital sector and, on the other, the existential interests of the Jewish and Arab population in Israel."

How then shall Zionism be fought?

If we understand Zionism as Alloush wants us to, as a product of Judaism, the unavoidable conclusion is that we cannot eliminate it except by eliminating "Judaism" –” and behind this cover-word lurks the specter of another Holocaust. Here, at least, Alloush is consistent: he finds fault with one point in the notorious speech of Mahathir Muhammad. The latter condemned the suicide actions. Alloush regards these not as terrorism but as martyrdom:

"Without action on the ground, without popular uprisings, military operations, and yes, human bombs if need be, public opinion in the enemy camp is likely to wallow in the spoils of the conquest, not to side with the oppressed." ("The Question of Pro-Palestinian Jews,", a website under Alloush’s editorship.)

However, if we understand Zionism as part of a historical development, if we understand that it became possible only within the framework of capitalist imperialism, the conclusion will be quite different: that the defeat of Zionism can only occur by means of a struggle against capitalism. This will require an alternative framework, socialist and internationalist.

The test for everyone today is his or her position toward the Palestinian question and the Occupation. Every human being who opposes Zionism and believes in the Palestinian cause, including every Israeli who chooses to take part in building a new society here, not on the basis of religion or nationality, rather on the basis of a new internationalism, is an ally in the quest for justice.