In the run up to the recent elections in Britain charges of anti-Semitism made British and American headlines. A Labour member of parliament, Naz Shah, was suspended over a graphic about Israel that she posted on Facebook and a tweet that talked about Hitler. Then when Ken Livingstone, mayor of London from 2000 to 2008, defended her and made a comment about Hitler and Zionism, he was also suspended from the Labour Party. It’s all garbage, wordsmithing and lying by people going bonkers about the meaning of a few sentences.
Take a look at the graphic Naz Shah posted. It’s a joke about the Israel getting so much support from the U.S. it would be cheaper to move it to the U.S. The Right hysterically explains she’s demanding that Israeli Jews all be deported, shades of Nazi extermination. Shah has gone into full apology mode, but it’s reported that she copied the graphic from the site of Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein is a scholar and activist, whose parents were Holocaust survivors. He vigorously denies the graphic was anti-Jewish.
What about her tweet? According to Britain’s Sky News it read: “#IsraelApartheid above a quote saying “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”. Was she defending Hitler here? Google the phrase. It comes from a letter by Martin Luther King, the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King’s point was that Hitler’s actions didn’t violate German law, but that didn’t make them moral. That was undoubtedly the point Shah was also making.
Both these social media posts come from the summer of 2014. Recall what was going on then. Israel was bombing the hell out of Gaza, killing thousands including hundreds of children. Did a single one of the Tory or Labour Right who try to mount the moral high horse now criticize those massacres by the Netanyahu’s government? Did any of them suggest that Britain suspend arms sales to Israel?
Fast forward a few days to Ken Livingstone. He left a TV studio and was surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, one of whom asked him what he thought about social media posts of Naz Shah. He said that he didn’t think her remarks were anti-Semitic. He was pressed on what she wrote about Hitler. He replied, “When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. [He then] went mad and ending up killing 6 million Jews.” On the basis of those words the firestorm began. Livingstone was accused as saying that Hitler had been a Zionist. A Labour MP named John Mann confronted Livingstone in public and called him a “racist” and a “Nazi apologist”. Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the Labour Party, had Livingstone suspended.
Now what Livingstone said was poorly phrased. He could have explained the meaning about Hitler’s action being “legal” and left it at that. His words left himself open to having his meaning easily twisted, but he was getting at something quite real. There was period of cooperation between Nazi Germany and Zionist organizations, a disgraceful collaboration that went on for years that betrayed worldwide Jewish interests. It was well known in the 1930’s, then was forgotten for decades and re-discoved by Lenni Brenner in his book “Zionisim in the Age of the Dictators.”
When Hitler was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg (he never was “elected” in a free election) Nazi thugs were set loose and anti-Jewish laws were proposed. Jews around the world spontaneously resisted and started calling for boycotts of German goods. In New York thousands, then tens of thousands met and denounced Nazi actions and called for the boycott.
An account of this period is in a book by Edwin Black called “The Transfer Agreement”. (It has a favorable afterward by Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League). Black writes that on March 25, 1933 Herman Goering, then President of the German Reichstag, met with German Jewish leaders and demanded they stop the demonstrations and boycott efforts. They all said they were powerless, except for Kurt Blumenfeld, the President of the German Zionist Federation. He said he would see what could be done. The Zionists started negotiating with the Nazis within a few days. In the end they arrived at the “Transfer Agreement”.
Their agreement was all about money and emigration. For years there had been strict controls on how much money an emigrant could take out of Germany. The Zionists told the Nazis that if they wanted to get Jews out of Germany they’d have to make a special deal to allow them to take more money out, enough to qualify for the entry requirements the British had for Palestine. The Nazis countered that they wouldn’t allow more cash out of the country, but they proposed German Jews put money in a special frozen bank account. Then the German government would send German goods to Palestine. The Zionist groups would sell the German products and give money to new immigrants to Palestine. The Zionists agreed.
So while Americans were picketing department stores demanding they boycott German goods, the Zionist Jews were selling German goods in Palestine and elsewhere. Black who thought the Transfer Agreement was a grand idea because it brought a lot of money in to build up Jewish Palestine admitted on page 86 of his book the deal would “pierce a stake through the heart of the Jewish-led anti-Nazi boycott”.
When news got out of the deal there were a lot of furious Jews. Zionism was a decidedly minority movement in the 1930’s. In Germany itself Black estimated it had no more than 1 to 2% support of the Jewish population. Yet this group decided on its own to pull the plug on resistance to Nazi discrimination and brutality and to use Hitler’s rise as an opportunity to help their Palestine project. Rabbi Abba Silver of Cleveland wrote in August 1933, “Why, the very idea of Palestinian Jewry negotiating with Hitler about business instead of demanding justice for the prosecuted Jews of Germany is unthinkable…“One might think that the whole affair was a bankruptcy sale and that the Jews of Palestine were endeavoring to salvage a few bargains for themselves.”
In Jewish Palestine there was enormous anger about the deal among what was then called the Revisionist Zionists. They were the forerunners of Netanyahu’s faction. One of the people who bargained the Transfer Agreement was a man named Haim Arlosoroff. In June 1933 he was assassinated on a Tel Aviv beach by a Revisionist Zionist.
The Transfer Agreement continued in different versions right up until 1939. In the mid-‘30’s some Nazis were saying things openly positive about Zionism. There are some incredible quotes in Brenner’s book by Nazis in favor of settlement in Palestine. Baron Von Mildenstein head of the Jewish section of the SS wrote, “The way of curing the centuries long wound on the body of the world, the Jewish question , the soil has reformed him and his kind in a decade…” (Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, p.104) There’s worse. Reinhart Heydrich wrote, “The time cannot be far distant when Palestine will again be able to accept its sons who have been lost to it for over a thousand years. Our good wishes with our official good will go off with them.” (Zionism…p.104) If the name Heydrich is familiar, it is the same Reinhart Heydrich who was to become a chief architect of the Holocaust.
And there is this Nazi medal.
It was struck in honor of a six month long visit von Mildenstein to Palestine. He wrote favorably about the Zionist project in Palestine in a dozen articles in the the Nazi magazine Angriff stretching over a year. Goebbels had a medal struck in the trip’s “honor”. Brenner purchased a copy over the internet and stuck a picture of it on the cover of his 2015 reissue of his book.
So, did Hitler “support Zionism”?
Unlike the remarks of von Mildenstein and Heydrich there’s no record of Hitler saying anything favorable about Jewish Palestine. However, the real question is not the words, but what the Transfer Agreement did for the Zionist project. In his book Black justifies the Transfer Agreement by bragging how many millions it brought into Jewish Palestine. At one point he says it was $100 million. That’s been disputed. In a review in the Jewish magazine “Commentary” in an article aptly title “Deal with the Devil”, Richard S. Davis said the real number was only $40 million.
Was it a lot of support or a little support? Historians can argue about the issue, but it was clearly something quite real. For people to charge Livingstone with “anti-Semitism” for referring to this collaboration is base and utter slander.
Not only should the Shah and Livingstone Labour Party suspensions be thrown out, Corbyn should put the whole period under a spotlight. Hold a conference and have historians talk and debate about the collaboration and appeasement of the Nazis by Zionist organizations when they should have been taking part in the fight against the Nazi beast. Invite Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel to contribute. Wiesel is well known as a 100% supporter of the Israeli government, but in 1993 he wrote a review of an Israeli book on the record of the Israeli Zionists in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Commenting on the Transfer Agreement Wiesel wrote, “this brazen pragmatism went against the political philosophy of a majority of world Jewry. There developed a growing perception that instead of supporting and strengthening the boycott, Palestine was, in fact, sabotaging it.”
On May 5, I interviewed Lenni Brenner about Livingstone and the controversy. You can see the whole 40-minute discussion on YouTube.
For my article examining the question of whether the anti-Nazi boycott could actually have beaten Hitler, click here.