My current read is a book I have borrowed from my granddad, One Palestine, Complete, by Tom Segev about Palestine under the British mandate (from the end of WW1 to the creation of the modern state of Israel). I am only a few chapters in, but there appear to be a few contradictions, both from the author and in a broader sense, in the ideology behind the Zionist movement.
One of the points Segev pushes is that it is anti-Semitic to foster claims that Jews have excessive influence over world politics, that they have some secret agenda to control the world financially and politically. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has similar statements in their definitions of what is anti-Semitic:
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
Of course, such theories are utter nonsense, and to stereotype all Jewish peoples in such a distasteful way is indeed offensive, as it is for any group to be wrongly demonised. But my confusion with the opening chapters of Segev’s book is this: while he actively protests the anti-Semitism behind such theories, he seems to praise Chaim Weizmann (one of the leaders of the Zionist movement when it began to pick up in the early 1900’s) for so successfully perpetuating that very myth.
He goes into detail about how Weizmann had contacts in the British government, including Churchill and Balfour (the latter being the namesake of the Balfour Declaration, a document considered proof of Israel’s legitimacy, despite two other deals also made by Britain with France and the Arabs). Weizmann also had friends in America, who were able to exert influence – successfully – in favour of the Zionist movement. Such influence can be still be seen, with much less political impact, in Britain, the US, and even Australia (although the US is the only one with any notable effect on policy, and even that is more strategic than ideological). So the idea of absolute Jewish control over international politics is just that – an idea, a myth – but there is a brief period that it is based on. Weizmann was seen as a leader and spokesman of the Jews, and he used this to his advantage.
The mood in Europe (not just Germany) towards Jews at that time was rather hostile, and over time Weizmann’s success in garnering support for Zionism was seen as another chapter of Jewish control. Anti-Semitism, and the wish to send Jews away to Uganda or Palestine, was a driving force of Zionism as well. In this hostile environment, Weizmann promoted his image as an influential leader of the world’s Jewish population. Is it any wonder theories of such dominance are shaping the resurgence of anti-Jewish sentiments today?
Just a small observation, based merely on Segev’s comments about Weizmann at the opening of this book, but an interesting one. For a people – rightly – objecting to false claims about them, it seems strange that one would follow it with praise for actions that contributed to those claims gaining credibility in the public’s mind.