Tony Greenstein’s well researched book, Zionism During the Holocaust: The Weaponisation of Memory in the Service of the State and Nation will not sit well with proponents of the propaganda that sustains Israeli colonisation of Palestine. While several Israeli authors have touched upon the links between Zionism and Nazism, Greenstein’s book brings this history to the fore and exposes how Zionist leaders were concerned with the establishment of the colonial state, as opposed to preventing the killing of Jews during the Holocaust.
In his introduction, Greenstein writes, “This book is a response to a Zionist historiography which has attempted to write anti-Zionism out of history and consign it to a ‘state of oblivion’.” The book is divided in three parts, chronicling the influence of Zionism before, during and after the Holocaust. Of particular significance is the insistence of early Zionist leaders to distinguish between Jews deemed eligible for entry into Palestine for the settler-colonial enterprise.
While Zionism realised the importance of exploiting the Holocaust to argue for proof of needing a Jewish state, despite the fact that not all victims were Jewish, it also determined that only Jewish people that could contribute to setting up the settler-colonial enterprise would be allowed entry. The concept of Jewish refugees as a humanitarian issue derived from politics was of no concern to the Zionist leaders. To this effect, Zionists leaders collaborated with the Nazis, striking deals which would enable masses of Jews to be exterminated, in return for preserving the lives of elite Jews for the purpose of colonial migration to Palestine. Quoting David Ben Gurion in 1933, Greenstein makes an important observation on how Zionism was not concerned with saving Jewish lives. Ben Gurion had explained that if there was “a conflict of interest between saving individual Jewish lives and the good of the Zionist enterprise, we shall say the enterprise comes first.” Nazism, Greenstein argues, benefited from the Zionist political ideology and harboured no opposition. For example, the Zionist claim that Jews were unable to assimilate anywhere in the world was adopted by the Nazis in their persecution of Jewish people. Anti-Semitism, therefore, was a joint “Hitler understood early on that there was a distinction between the Jews and Zionism.” And while Jews actively fought against Nazism, Zionists collaborated with Nazism and fascism.
The conflation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism which rests so well with Israel and the international community, was necessary for the early Zionist leaders and for today’s Israeli government. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism does not allow criticism of the Israeli colonial state, particularly in comparing its policies to those of the Nazi. Yet, Greenstein notes, Israelis themselves noted the similarity. Besides the massacre of Kafr Qasem, which Israeli perpetrators compared to Nazi tactics, Greenstein quotes an Israeli stating, “There is a wider identification with the Nazis in Israeli society.”
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Back to the ‘state of oblivion’ which Zionism has managed in its propaganda, Greenstein notes how the first instances of oblivion were committed by Zionist leaders themselves in their refusal to communicate the reports concerning the killings of Jewish people in Hungary and Poland. “No Zionist body in Palestine ever discussed these reports,” Greenstein writes. In 1938, Ben Gurion told the Mapai Central Committee, “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.”
Zionist leaders, Greenstein writes, were also concerned with what would happen to the Zionist colonial project if the world collaborated in favour of rescuing the Jewish people. “We are risking Zionism’s very existence if we allow the refugee problem to be separated from the Palestine problem,” Ben Gurion wrote in 1938.
Meanwhile, Ben Gurion also played the anti-Semitism card in foreign relations. The US State Department played a role in pressuring Latin American governments to refuse documents of Jewish refugees, while closer to the end of the war, Ben Gurion was concerned that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust would not wish to emigrate to Palestine. “IF they do not wish an influx of European Jews as immigrants to the United States, they would be well advised to support the Zionist claim to Palestine,” Ben Gurion warned.
Greenstein’s book is heavily referenced and portrays a detailed insight of how Zionism exploited the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to further its colonial enterprise in Palestine. From its own ideology, to collaborating with Nazism during the Holocaust, and later, propping up Latin American dictatorships sheltering Nazi war criminals through weapons sales, Zionism is proved to be anti-Semitic in its approach towards the Jewish people. Furthermore, Zionism manipulated Holocaust memory to shift blame upon Palestinians for the Jewish plight during World War II.
“Zionism and the Israeli state claim ownership of the Holocaust and a monopoly on its interpretation,” the author writes in his introduction. Greenstein’s research, as well as his analysis, provide a way out of Zionist oblivion. While the Zionist narrative controls the details, the history can be discovered and learnt. As the book delves into an international approach particularly in the analysis of Zionism after the Holocaust, Israel’s violent character can be analysed within the context of its own founders’ collaboration in the atrocities committed against the Jewish people and other minorities. An exploitative settler-colonial enterprise with an equally exploitative history, Greenstein renders Zionism’s violent history tangible to readers, while dispelling the myths upon which Israel depends for its narrative.
PS: Copies of this book are available from the author at a reduced price. Contact [email protected]
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