Episode 9 show notes – Zionism and anti-Semitism: Joseph Massad on the sordid historical alliance

Moderate Rebels episode 9

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton are joined by Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad, a leading expert on Israel-Palestine and Arab politics and intellectual history. Massad details the long history of collaboration between anti-Semites and Zionists.

We discuss how Zionism was promoted by Western imperialist governments as a bulwark against socialism, communism, and other leftist movements, and how far-right racist movements look to the Israeli ethnostate as a model today.

Show Notes

Professor Joseph Massad’s books

Joseph Massad, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, Routledge, 2006

Joseph Massad, Desiring Arabs, University Of Chicago Press, 2007

Joseph Massad, Islam in Liberalism, University Of Chicago Press, 2015

History of Zionism

Joseph Massad, “The Balfour Declaration’s many questions“, The Electronic Intifada, 8 November 2017

Joseph Massad, “The last of the Semites“, Al Jazeera, 21 May 2013

Partial Transcripts

Zionist collaboration with fascism and anti-Semitism

Max Blumenthal, “Exposing the Shocking and Continuing Alliance Between Zionism and Anti-Semitism“, AlterNet Grayzone Project, 26 November 2017

According to Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University and the author of the new book Islam in Liberalism, the emerging alliance between Zionists and European ultra-nationalists reflects an ongoing historical development that dates back to the late 19th century.

In a wide-ranging discussion with me and Ben Norton for our weekly podcast Moderate Rebels, Massad explained why, in his words, “Israel has no problem allying itself with anti-Semites who support its colonialism.” He asserted, “The problem [for Zionists] is not pro or anti-Jewishness with Israel, it’s pro-colonialism or anti-colonialism. Pro-Zionism as an colonial movement or not.”

Massad detailed the collaboration between Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and anti-Semites like Vyacheslav von Plehve, who oversaw brutal pogroms as the police chief of imperial Russia. Arthur Balfour, the former British Prime Minister and author of the Aliens Act that barred the immigration of Eastern European Jews to Britain, was also a key ally of Herzl and his Zionist Congress, which partnered with him on the infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917 “notwithstanding or precisely because of his anti-Semitic sentiment,” Massad noted.

Zionists like Herzl and anti-Semites like Balfour shared the view that the presence of assimilationist-minded Jews on the continent was unacceptable. Herzl “disdained poor Jews in Western Europe and blamed them for anti-Semitism,” according to Massad, and even argued that it was in the best interest of rich Jews to send poor Jews away to a colony in historic Palestine as it would reduce friction with Christian anti-Semites and allow poor gentiles to take their jobs.

Like Herzl, anti-Semitic European elites viewed a Jewish state as a convenient means for reducing the Jewish population within their societies. “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies,” Herzl declared.

“Anti-Semites saw in Zionism a kindred spirit and they shared with other Zionists the understanding that getting rid of European Jews somewhere else is a goal that they share,” Massad stated.

The alliance deepened during World War Two, as the Zionist movement broke the international Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany to embark on a lucrative Transfer Agreement with Hitler’s government that exchanged Jewish property for the bodies the Zionists needed to colonize Palestine. As Massad pointed out, when the fugitive Nazi functionary Adolph Eichmann was captured in 1960 and brought to Israel for trial a year later for war crimes, it was his second visit to the Holy Land. Indeed, Eichmann had been a guest of the Zionist movement in 1937, hosted for a tour of kibbutzim in historic Palestine by a double Zionist-Nazi agent named Feibl Folkes.

“Eichmann quoted Folkes to the effect that Zionist leaders were pleased by the persecution of European Jewry, since it would encourage emigration to Palestine,” the Israeli historian Tom Segev noted in his book The Seventh Million.

When anti-Semitism reared its head in US-aligned nations after the war, the state of Israel generally kept quiet. The disturbing silence was vividly illustrated during the liberal rebellion that momentarily seized power in Hungary in 1956. With assistance from the CIA, which aimed to wrest the country from the Warsaw Pact, the former commanders of Horthy’s collaborationist army were returned to Budapest, where they inspired widespread violence against Hungarian Jews.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “the fact that Hungary’s top four Communist leaders were of Jewish origin — including the dictator Matyas Rakosi, who reigned at the height of the Communist terror in the early 1950s — lent credibility to the idea of communism as Jewish revenge for the Holocaust.” (Herbert Aptheker’s 1956 book The Truth About Hungary is one of the most thorough chronicles of the return of fascism to the country during its anti-Soviet revolt, and can be read here for free).

While Soviet tanks put an end to the crisis, Israel drew critical benefits from its fallout. Thousands of Jewish refugees streamed out of Hungary and into the hands of an Israeli government desperate for fodder in its demographic trench war against the indigenous Palestinian population. It was not the first time that an eruption of anti-Semitism would serve the interests of the Zionist movement, and it would hardly be the last.

“That strategy would continue from Herzl on,” said Massad. “It was a continuing ideological cornerstone of Zionism, it has never stopped — we are speaking about something that is simply continuous.”

You can listen to our full conversation with Massad as well as previous episodes of Moderate Rebels here. And if you happen to like the work we’re doing, you can support us at our Patreon page.

Ali Abunimah on Zionism

Ali Abunimah, “Video: Ending the Zionist system“, The Electronic Intifada, 21 November 2017

This week, the Moderate Rebels podcast with Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton features an hour-long discussion with Massad. It’s a fascinating, in-depth conversation that expands on many themes in his article.

“For 300 years or so, Zionism was a Christian Protestant idea that the majority of Jewish leaders at the time, especially rabbis, had been opposed to and understood to be a call for the expulsion of Jews,” Massad explains. “So it took about 300 years before Jewish intellectuals would take it up in the 19th century, even if they remained a minority among Jews.”

Massad also provides rich background about the long history of Zionist collaboration with anti-Semites, which was not merely fleeting or deviant, but anchored in a shared worldview.

For Zionists, Massad explains, “there was no point in fighting anti-Semitism because the diagnosis of [Theodor] Herzl early on is that what causes anti-Semitism were Jews themselves, or the presence of Jews in gentile communities.”

As Massad states, Herzl, the founder of Zionism, “actually blamed Jews for causing anti-Semitism, rather than blaming the anti-Semites.”

Massad, whose latest book is Islam in Liberalism, also speaks about the similarities between European anti-Semitism and present-day Islamophobia.

“Many of the precepts and the axioms of 19th and early 20th century anti-Semitism continue, and as Edward Said had already shown in his 1978 book Orientalism, that just the object of hatred has shifted, even though that object looks almost the same as the previous one,” Massad states.

“Contemporary Islamophobia or hatred of Muslims is a continuation of anti-Semitism, which thought of Jews as transnational, cosmopolitan, rootless and therefore tribal and dangerous to the national configurations of Europe.”

Listen to Moderate Rebels episode 9