by Ron Unz
Around 35 years ago, I was sitting in my college dorm-room closely reading the New York Times as I did each and every morning when I noticed an astonishing article about the controversial new Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir.
Back in those long-gone days, the Gray Lady was strictly a black-and-white print publication, lacking the large color photographs of rap stars and long stories about dieting techniques that fill so much of today's news coverage, and it also seemed to have a far harder edge in its Middle East reporting. A year or so earlier, Shamir's predecessor Menacham Begin had allowed his Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to talk him into invading Lebanon and besieging Beirut, and the subsequent massacre of Palestinian women and children in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps had outraged the world and angered America's government. This eventually led to Begin's resignation, with Shamir, his Foreign Minister, taking his place.
Prior to his surprising 1977 election victory, Begin had spent decades in the political wilderness as an unacceptable right-winger, and Shamir had an even more extreme background, with the American mainstream media freely reporting his long involvement in all sorts of high-profile assassinations and terrorist attacks during the 1940s, painting him as a very bad man indeed.
Given Shamir's notorious activities, few revelations would have shocked me, but this one did. Apparently, during the late 1930s, Shamir and his small Zionist faction had become great admirers of the Italian Fascists and German Nazis, and after World War II broke out, they had made repeated attempts to contact Mussolini and the German leadership in 1940 and 1941, hoping to enlist in the Axis Powers as their Palestine affiliate, and undertake a campaign of attacks and espionage against the local British forces, then share in the political booty after Hitler's inevitable triumph.
Now the Times clearly viewed Shamir in a very negative light, but it seemed extremely unlikely to me that they would have published such a remarkable story without being absolutely sure of their facts. Among other things, there were long excerpts from the official letters sent to Mussolini ferociously denouncing the "decadent" democratic systems of Britain and France that he was opposing, and assuring Il Duce that such ridiculous political notions would have no future place in the totalitarian Jewish client state they hoped to establish under his auspices in Palestine.
As it happens, both Germany and Italy were preoccupied with larger geopolitical issues at the time, and given the small size of Shamir's Zionist faction, not much seems to have ever come of those efforts. But the idea of the sitting Prime Minister of the Jewish State having spent his early wartime years as an unrequited Nazi ally was certainly something that sticks in one's mind, not quite conforming to the traditional narrative of that era which I had always accepted.
Most remarkably, the revelation of Shamir's pro-Axis past seems to have had only a relatively minor impact upon his political standing within Israeli society. I would think that any American political figure found to have supported a military alliance with Nazi Germany during the Second World War would have had a very difficult time surviving the resulting political scandal, and the same would surely be true for politicians in Britain, France, or most other western nations. But although there was certainly some embarrassment in the Israeli press, especially after the shocking story reached the international headlines, apparently most Israelis took the whole matter in stride, and Shamir stayed in office for another year, then later served a second, much longer term as Prime Minister during 1986-1992. The Jews of Israel apparently regarded Nazi Germany quite differently than did most Americans, let alone most American Jews.
round that same time, a second intriguing example of this quite different Israeli perspective towards the Nazis also came to my attention. In 1983, Amoz Oz, often described as Israel's greatest novelist, had published In the Land of Israel to glowing reviews. This book was a collection of lengthy interviews with various representative figures in Israeli society, both moderate and extreme, as well as some coverage of the Palestinians who also lived among them.
Of these ideological profiles, one of the shortest but most widely discussed was that of an especially hard-line political figure, unnamed but almost universally believed to be Ariel Sharon, a conclusion certainly supported by the personal details and physical description provided. Near the very beginning, that figure mentioned that people of his ideological ilk had recently been denounced as "Judeo-Nazis" by a prominent liberal Israeli academic, but rather than reject that label, he fully welcomed it. So the subject generally became known in public discussions as the "Judeo-Nazi."
That he described himself in such terms was hardly an exaggeration, since he rather gleefully advocated the slaughter of millions of Israel's enemies, and the vast expansion of Israeli territory by conquest of neighboring lands and expulsion of their populations, along with the free use of nuclear weapons if they or anyone else too strongly resisted such efforts. In his bold opinion, the Israelis and Jews in general were just too soft and meek, and needed to regain their place in the world by once again becoming a conquering people, probably hated but definitely feared. To him, the large recent massacre of Palestinian women and children at Sabra and Shatila was of no consequence whatsoever, and the most unfortunate aspect of the incident was that the killers had been Israel's Christian Phalangist allies rather than Israeli soldiers themselves.
Now rhetorical excess is quite common among politicians and a shroud of pledged anonymity will obviously loosen many tongues. But can anyone imagine an American or other Western public figure talking in such terms, let alone someone who moves in higher political circles? These days, Donald Trump sometimes Tweets out a crude misspelled insult at 2am, and the American media is aghast in horror. But given that his administration leaks like a sieve, if he routinely boasted to his confidants about possibly slaughtering millions, we surely would have heard about it. For that matter, there seems not the slightest evidence that the original German Nazis ever spoke in such ways privately, let alone while a journalist was carefully taking notes. But the "Judeo-Nazis" of Israel are another story.
As near as I can recall, the last even slightly prominent figure in American public life who declared himself a "Nazi" was George Lincoln Rockwell during the 1960s, and he was much more of a political performance artist than an actual political leader. Even as marginalized a figure as David Duke has always hotly denied such an accusation. But apparently politics in Israel is played by different rules.
In any event, Sharon's purported utterances seem to have had little negative impact upon his subsequent political career, and after spending some time in the political wilderness after the Lebanon disaster, he eventually served five years as Prime Minister during 2001-2006, although by that later date his views were regularly denounced as too soft and compromising due to the steady rightward drift of the Israeli political spectrum.
Over the years I've occasionally made half-hearted attempts to locate the Times article about Shamir that had long stuck in my memory, but have had no success, either because it was removed from the Times archives or more likely because my mediocre search skills proved inadequate. But I'm almost certain that the piece had been prompted by the 1983 publication of Zionism in the Age of the Dictators by Lenni Brenner, an anti-Zionist of the Trotskyite persuasion and Jewish origins. I only very recently discovered that book, which really tells an extremely interesting story.
Brenner, born in 1937, has spent his entire life as an unreconstructed hard-core leftist, with his enthusiasms ranging from Marxist revolution to the Black Panthers, and he is obviously a captive of his views and his ideology. At times, this background impairs the flow of his text, and the periodic allusions to "proletarian," "bourgeoisie," and "capitalist classes" sometimes grow a little wearisome, as does his unthinking acceptance of all the shared beliefs common to his political circle. But surely only someone with that sort of fervent ideological commitment would have been willing to devote so much time and effort to investigating that controversial subject and ignoring the endless denunciations that resulted, which even included physical assaults by Zionist partisans.
n any event, his documentation seems completely airtight, and some years after the original appearance of his book, he published a companion volume entitled 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, which simply provides English translations of all the raw evidence behind his analytical framework, allowing interested parties to read the material and draw their own conclusions.
Among other things, Brenner provides considerable evidence that the larger and somewhat more mainstream right-wing Zionist faction later led by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was almost invariably regarded as a Fascist movement during the 1930s, even apart from its warm admiration for Mussolini's Italian regime. This was hardly such a dark secret in that period given that its main Palestine newspaper carried a regular column by a top ideological leader entitled "Diary of a Fascist." During one of the major international Zionist conferences, factional leader Vladimir Zabotinsky entered the hall with his brown-shirted followers in full military formation, leading the chair to ban the wearing of uniforms in order to avoid a riot, and his faction was soon defeated politically and eventually expelled from the Zionist umbrella organization. This major setback was largely due to the widespread hostility the group had aroused after two of its members were arrested by British police for the recent assassination of Chaim Arlosoroff, one of the highest-ranking Zionist officials based in Palestine.
Indeed, the inclination of the more right-wing Zionist factions toward assassination, terrorism, and other forms of essentially criminal behavior was really quite remarkable. For example, in 1943 Shamir had arranged the assassination of his factional rival, a year after the two men had escaped together from imprisonment for a bank robbery in which bystanders had been killed, and he claimed he had acted to avert the planned assassination of David Ben-Gurion, the top Zionist leader and Israel's future founding-premier. Shamir and his faction certainly continued this sort of behavior into the 1940s, successfully assassinating Lord Moyne, the British Minister for the Middle East, and Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Peace Negotiator, though they failed in their other attempts to kill American President Harry Truman and British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, and their plans to assassinate Winston Churchill apparently never moved past the discussion stage. His group also pioneered the use of terrorist car-bombs and other explosive attacks against innocent civilian targets, all long before any Arabs or Muslims had ever thought of using similar tactics; and Begin's larger and more "moderate" Zionist faction did much the same. Given that background, it was hardly surprising that Shamir later served as director of assassinations at the Israeli Mossad during 1955-1965, so if the Mossad did indeed play a major role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he was very likely involved.
The cover of the 2014 paperback edition of Brenner's book displays the commemorative medal struck by Nazi Germany to mark its Zionist alliance, with a Star-of-David on the front face and a Swastika on the obverse. But oddly enough, this symbolic medallion actually had absolutely no connection with the unsuccessful attempts by Shamir's small faction to arrange a Nazi military alliance during World War II.
Although the Germans paid little attention to the entreaties of that minor organization, the far larger and more influential mainstream Zionist movement of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion was something else entirely. And during most of the 1930s, these other Zionists had formed an important economic partnership with Nazi Germany, based upon an obvious commonality of interests. After all, Hitler regarded Germany's one percent Jewish population as a disruptive and potentially dangerous element which he wanted gone, and the Middle East seemed as good a destination for them as any other. Meanwhile, the Zionists had very similar objectives, and the creation of their new national homeland in Palestine obviously required both Jewish immigrants and Jewish financial investment.
After Hitler had been named Chancellor in 1933, outraged Jews worldwide had quickly launched an economic boycott, hoping to bring Germany to its knees, with London's Daily Express famously running the banner headline "Judea Declares War on Germany." Jewish political and economic influence, then just like now, was very considerable, and in the depths of the Great Depression, impoverished Germany needed to export or die, so a large scale boycott in major German markets posed a potentially serious threat. But this exact situation provided Zionist groups with an excellent opportunity to offer the Germans a means of breaking that trade embargo, and they demanded favorable terms for the export of high-quality German manufactured goods to Palestine, together with accompanying German Jews. Once word of this major Ha'avara or "Transfer Agreement" with the Nazis came out at a 1933 Zionist Convention, many Jews and Zionists were outraged, and it led to various splits and controversies. But the economic deal was too good to resist, and it went forward and quickly grew.
The importance of the Nazi-Zionist pact for Israel's establishment is difficult to overstate. According to a 1974 analysis in Jewish Frontier cited by Brenner, between 1933 and 1939 over 60% of all the investment in Jewish Palestine came from Nazi Germany. The worldwide impoverishment of the Great Depression had drastically reduced ongoing Jewish financial support from all other sources, and Brenner reasonably suggests that without Hitler's financial backing, the nascent Jewish colony, so tiny and fragile, might easily have shriveled up and died during that difficult period.
Such a conclusion leads to fascinating hypotheticals. When I first stumbled across references to the Ha'avara Agreement on websites here and there, one of the commenters mentioning the issue half-jokingly suggested that if Hitler had won the war, statues would surely have been built to him throughout Israel and he would today be recognized by Jews everywhere as the heroic Gentile leader who had played the central role in reestablishing a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine after almost 2000 years of bitter exile.
This sort of astonishing counter-factual possibility is not nearly as totally absurd as it might sound to our present-day ears. We must recognize that our historical understanding of reality is shaped by the media, and media organs are controlled by the winners of major wars and their allies, with inconvenient details often excluded to avoid confusing the public. It is undeniably true that in his 1924 book Mein Kampf, Hitler had written all sorts of hostile and nasty things about Jews, especially those who were recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, but when I read the book back in high school, I was a little surprised to discover that these anti-Jewish sentiments hardly seemed central to his text. Furthermore, just a couple of years earlier, a vastly more prominent public figure such as British Minister Winston Churchill had published sentiments nearly as hostile and nasty, focusing on the monstrous crimes being committed by Bolshevik Jews. In Albert Lindemann's Esau's Tears, I was surprised to discover that the author of the famous Balfour Declaration, the foundation of the Zionist project, was apparently also quite hostile to Jews, with an element of his motivation probably being his desire to exclude them from Britain.
Once Hitler consolidated power in Germany, he quickly outlawed all other political organizations for the German people, with only the Nazi Party and Nazi political symbols being legally permitted. But a special exception was made for German Jews, and Germany's local Zionist Party was accorded complete legal status, with Zionist marches, Zionist uniforms, and Zionist flags all fully permitted. Under Hitler, there was strict censorship of all German publications, but the weekly Zionist newspaper was freely sold at all newsstands and street corners. The clear notion seemed to be that a German National Socialist Party was the proper political home for the country's 99% German majority, while Zionist National Socialism would fill the same role for the tiny Jewish minority.
In 1934, Zionist leaders invited an important SS official to spend six months visiting the Jewish settlement in Palestine, and upon his return, his very favorable impressions of the growing Zionist enterprise were published as a massive 12-part-series in Joseph Goebbel's Der Angriff, the flagship media organ of the Nazi Party, bearing the descriptive title "A Nazi Goes to Palestine." In his very angry 1920 critique of Jewish Bolshevik activity, Churchill had argued that Zionism was locked in a fierce battle with Bolshevism for the soul of European Jewry, and only its victory might ensure amicable future relations between Jew and Gentile. Based on available evidence, Hitler and many of the other Nazi leaders seemed to have reached a somewhat similar conclusion by the mid-1930s.
During that era extremely harsh sentiments regarding Diaspora Jewry were sometimes found in rather surprising quarters. After the controversy surrounding Shamir's Nazi ties erupted into the headlines, Brenner's material became the grist for an important article by Edward Mortimer, the longtime Middle East expert at the august Times of London, and the 2014 edition of the book includes some choice extracts from Mortimer's February 11, 1984 Times piece:
Who told a Berlin audience in March 1912 that "each country can absorb only a limited number of Jews, if she doesn't want disorders in her stomach. Germany already has too many Jews"?
No, not Adolf Hitler but Chaim Weizmann, later president of the World Zionist Organization and later still the first president of the state of Israel.
And where might you find the following assertion, originally composed in 1917 but republished as late as 1936: "The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligation, knows no order nor discipline"?
Not in Der Sturmer but in the organ of the Zionist youth organization, Hashomer Hatzair.
As the above quoted statement reveals, Zionism itself encouraged and exploited self-hatred in the Diaspora. It started from the assumption that anti-Semitism was inevitable and even in a sense justified so long as Jews were outside the land of Israel.
It is true that only an extreme lunatic fringe of Zionism went so far as to offer to join the war on Germany's side in 1941, in the hope of establishing "the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, and bound by a treaty with the German Reich." Unfortunately this was the group which the present Prime Minister of Israel chose to join.
The very uncomfortable truth is that the harsh characterizations of Diaspora Jewry found in the pages of Mein Kampf were not all that different from what was voiced by Zionism's founding fathers and its subsequent leaders, so the cooperation of those two ideological movements was not really so totally surprising.
However, uncomfortable truths do remain uncomfortable. Mortimer had spent nineteen years at the Times, the last dozen of them as the foreign specialist and leader-writer on Middle Eastern affairs. But the year after he wrote that article including those controversial quotations, his career at that newspaper ended, leading to an unusual gap in his employment history, and that development may or may not be purely coincidental.
Also quite ironic was the role of Adolf Eichmann, whose name today probably ranks as one of the most famous half-dozen Nazis in history, due to his postwar 1960 kidnapping by Israeli agents, followed by his public show-trial and execution as a war-criminal. As it happens, Eichmann had been a central Nazi figure in the Zionist alliance, even studying Hebrew and apparently becoming something of a philo-Semite during the years of his close collaboration with top Zionist leaders.
Brenner is a captive of his ideology and his beliefs, accepting without question the historical narrative with which he was raised. He seems to find nothing so strange about Eichmann being a philo-Semitic partner of the Jewish Zionists during the late 1930s and then suddenly being transformed into a mass-murderer of the European Jews in the early 1940s, willingly committing the monstrous crimes for which the Israelis later justly put him to death.