A short note on the Tony Greenstein webinar
On 16 March 2023 Palestine Solidarity Campaign Cape Town and the Palestine Solidarity Alliance hosted a webinar at which scholar and Palestine solidarity activist Tony Greenstein, presented his latest book, ‘Zionism During The Holocaust’. As recounted in my introductory article on 07 March, the book is a detailed exploration and mapping of the interactions between the Zionist leadership and the leaders of the Nazi party during the 1930s.
This is a controversial topic and it seems counterintuitive that there could have been any engagement, let alone collaboration, between arch-antisemites and the leaders of a movement claiming to be struggling for Jewish self-determination.
The webinar presentation was well attended. It did not take long before there were 60 people in the waiting room, and I understand that the number attending rose to more than 90. I am sharing my view of this interesting presentation and discussion, because I think some of my readers will have their appetites whetted and go on to click the link to the recording of the event, which I have provided at the end of this short piece.
Greenstein started his presentation by asking ‘what allows Israel to get away with what it does? In other words, what allows it to get away with its egregious violation of the human rights of Palestinians? His answer was ‘the holocaust’. To achieve this the history of the holocaust was rewritten, omitting the collaboration between the Zionist leadership and the Nazi leaders to undermine a relatively successful international trade boycott of German export goods, in return for the transfer of German manufactured equipment and money to the Yishuv in Palestine, accompanied by the emigration of about 60 000 relatively wealthy Jewish Germans to Palestine. What this demonstrated, according to Greenstein, is the congruence of meaning about race between two apparently opposed ethno nationalisms — Zionism and Nazism. Greenstein opined that this helps to explain the current support for Israel from antisemitic nationalists (he referred to Viktor Orban from Hungary as an example), who in recent years visited Israel and went on the obligatory pilgrimage to the Yad Vashem memorial, to pay homage to those who were killed as part of the German genocide of the Jews during World War Two.
According to Greenstein the origin of Zionism was in Christian Zionism because Christians wanted to see a Jewish state to protect the Suez Canal route to India. He noted that from 1850 to 1914 there was mass emigration of 2,5 million Jews from Russia, one per cent of whom went to Palestine. This reflects the then emphasis on Jewish identity as being outside of a state, i.e. not (as it has become under Zionism) state-centric. For religious Eastern European Jews Zionism was a nationalist diversion from worshipping God.
When the Nazis took power in Germany, less than two per cent of Jewish Germans were Zionist. As attacks on Jewish people escalated under the Nazi regime, an international boycott was launched against the German government and its economy. Referring to Edwin Black’s seminal book, ‘The Transfer Agreement’, Greenstein explained that for the Zionist leadership it was critical to save Jewish German wealth and use this to build the state of Israel. In August 1933 the Zionist leadership signed the Transfer Agreement with the Nazi government to achieve this, the quid pro quo being that the former would use their best endeavours to undermine if not break the international trade boycott of Germany. By 1939 60 per cent of investment in Palestine had come from Germany in terms of the Transfer Agreement.
Greenstein also reflected on the Zionist attitude towards the Nazis. He noted that the Zionist organisations never passed a resolution against Nazism, reflecting a tendency to neither condemn the Russian pogroms in an earlier period. By the end of 1942 the struggle to establish a Jewish state became the only priority. To demonstrate this point Greenstein referred to the official biography of David ben Gurion, first prime minister of the state. In 1933, during ‘Kristallnacht’ all synagogues in Germany were set on
fire, 100 Jewish Germans were killed and about 30 000 detained in concentration camps. In response the British Jewish Board of Deputies offered to take 10 000 Jewish German children and provide refuge for them. However, the then Zionist leadership was hostile to this offer, as can be read on page 855 of Ben Gurion’s biography, as part of his speech to the Mapai Central Committee. Greenstein also refers to a book by Boaz Evron, in which reference is made to the 1938 Avignon conference in France, to resolve the refugee problem. At this conference a leader of United States Zionism, Stephen Wise, emphasised the prioritisation of colonisation of ‘Eretz Yisrael’ as opposed to seeking relief and refuge in other lands for Jewish refugees. Greenstein’s further examples of the Zionist emphasis on colonisation and establishing a viable state rather than resisting Nazi-inspired antisemitism in Europe, are Eichmann’s visit to Palestine and Hungarian Zionist collaboration with the Nazis in order to save the wealthiest and physically healthiest for transfer to Palestine, leaving the majority of Jewish Hungarians to suffer their fate of extermination.
During discussion with Tony the following interesting points were raised. The dominant holocaust myth is that it is an act of God that is not susceptible to rational analysis. Jewish Israeli psychoanalyst Iris Hefets has argued that this myth turns Germans into perpetual perpetrators and Jews into perpetual victims, and that the guilt complexes of both Germans and Jews is an important factor in ensuring the hegemonic view that Israel represents the victims and should therefore be treated with kid gloves. Jeff Halper, in his ‘War against the People’, answers the question of ‘how Israel gets away with it?’, by arguing that it does so through building dependency relationships with autocratic and oppressive regimes the world over, to which it provides niche military and pacification services. Ronnie Kasrils (in attendance) opined that the political-economy of US imperialism as the context for Western support for Israel, is a far more compelling reason why ‘Israel continues to get away with it’ than the utility and the functionality of the holocaust myth.
My thinking is that it is not an either-or causality. Rather it is the US hegemonic and Western dominant political and economic interests across the globe, which are articulated with Israel’s narrative about being a David fighting to survive the next genocide from oriental Goliaths and Islamo-fascists, that sustains Israel’s ongoing colonisation of historic Palestine.
A video recording of the webinar presentation and discussion is available below.
Paul Hendler, Solidarity with Palestine, Stellenbosch, 30 March 2023.