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PostTwo Books on Stalin and Israel (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 03/22/15 1:43 pm)
The books reviewed here are Leonid Mlacin, Perché Stalin creò Israele, 2010 [Russian original: Zachem Stalin sozdal Izrail? (Why did Stalin Create Israel?), 2008], and Laurent Rucker, Staline, Israel et les Juifs, 2001.
In different ways they touch on a topic which has been somewhat buried underneath the avalanche of subsequent events in the Middle East, particularly in the course of the Cold War. As it is well known, after the initial round of battles in 1948-49, which established Israel as a tenuous, but solid presence in the former British mandate of Palestine (1919-48), more wars followed between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which Israel regularly won, consolidating its position. “Mandate” refers to the fact that the League of Nations, the United Nations ill-fated predecessor, had entrusted Great Britain with temporary control of the region, with a view to establish a “national homeland for the Jewish people” (as per the Balfour 1917 Declaration). From the initial territory, South of the Anglo-French divide (the 1916 Sykes-Piquet line), an Arab state had already being carved out, called “Transjordan.”
Because the Soviet Union was firmly on the Arab side in the 1960s and '70s, while the United States backed Israel, it was rather convenient for everybody to forget the decisive role played by Moscow and its satellite states in the years leading up to the creation of Israel, instead depicting Israel as an extension (or a tool) of Anglo-American influence in the region.
Interestingly, this was obliquely mentioned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to Washington. In a speech delivered to the AIPAC (http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/03/02/full-transcript-prime-minister-netanyahu%E2%80%99s-speech-at-aipac-policy-conference-2015/ ) the day before speaking in front of Congress, he thanked Czech President Zeman for the historical help that his country gave Israel in 1948. (No mention of Stalin and the USSR, of course.)
Left-wing critics of Israel, typically, have denounced it as a “colonial-settler state,” set up to protect the interests of “US and British imperialism” against an inchoate “Arab revolution,” through which the dispossessed “Arab masses” would have freed themselves from the joke of their “comprador bourgeoisie,” in the guise of sheiks and Baathist coronels (Moscow was backing the coronels). The reality, i.e., facts on the ground, was (and is) rather different, and these two books are very helpful in understanding a crucial historical period in the life of the Middle East.
The French book was written first. It grew out of the doctoral thesis that Rucker defended under the guidance of French historian Annie Kriegel. It is based on a wide perusal of archival documents in Russia (Foreign Ministry and CPSU funds), as well as on documents published in the West and in Russia. Its slant is to investigate the interaction between Stalin's determination to support the Zionists in their endeavor to establish a Jewish state in the Near East, and its policy of suppressing the Jews in the USSR itself.
The Russian book, actually, its Italian version, is a different thing. The author is a Russian author and journalist, whose connections in the former Soviet intelligentsia/intelligence run deep, and he intended to focus on the role played by the USSR under the ruling thumb of Iosif Stalin in the creation of Israel. Unfortunately the Italian translation only takes about two-thirds of the original book (a digital copy of the Russian can be freely obtained at ModernLib.Ru), as we shall see, I suppose for reasons of “political correctness.”
Anyway, the slant of the two books does not really matter when it comes to a description of the events themselves. There are of course antecedents to the relationship between the Soviet Union and Israel, indeed the Jewish workers and their political organisations played an important role in the birth of the Social Democratic Party of the Workers of All-Russia (SDPWR), out of which the Bolshevik party of Lenin (and then Stalin) was born.
Many leading Socialdemocrats were themselves Jews: Martov and Dan were the two main figures of the Menshevik wing of the SDPWR, while Sverdlov, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, Joffe and many others were Bolsheviks. Trotsky initially sided with the Mensheviks, before becoming the number two in Lenin's party on the eve of the October 1917 Revolution.
Stalin, himself by nationality a Georgian (his real name being Dzhugashvili), adopted many of the Great-Russian defects, including a penchant for anti-Semitism which became potentially deadly in his latest years. During his fight against the Left Opposition, many of whose leaders were of Jewish origins, he did not refrain from appealing to the wide undercurrent of hatred for the Jews among the ethnic Russian population, with statements to the effect that “Of course we have nothing against the Jews, yet is remarkable that the Left Opposition has so many Jews amongst its leaders.”
Anti-Semitism had been a regular staple of the Whites' anti-Bolshevik propaganda during the Russian civil war (1919-22), as this poster so vividly shows (see below):
The caption says “Peace and Freedom under Soviet Power [Sovdep],” while Trotsky, whose signature is at the bottom of a poster ordering the shooting of opponents of the Revolution, is shown as a red-Jewish devil/chimpanzee, lording it over the pure Russian people with his gangs of Asian soldiers and Latvian sailors. The flags over the Kremlin say “RSFSR” (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the forerunner of the Soviet Union), and “Workers and Peasant Government.”
Anyhow, before the revolution the Bolsheviks had conducted a victorious political struggle against the “Bund,” ie. the Federation of Jewish workers affiliated with the SD Party, arguing against a separate organisation for Jewish workers, and most Bundists became Bolsheviks. After the revolution, Moscow opposed the Zionist project, specifically arguing that Russian Jews were at home in the Soviet Union and need not establish another state. Much later on (in the 1960s-1980s), this became the rationale behind Soviet oppression of Jews and the refusal to let them emigrate to Israel.
During World War II, immediately after Hitler invaded the USSR in May 1941, a Jewish Antifascist Committee was set up in Moscow. The main aim of the Soviets linking up with the Zionists, which took place in London via talks between the Soviet ambassador Maisky and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Weizmann, was to use their influence in the US to obtain American support for Russia. (Pearl Harbor and the instant declaration of war by Nazi Germany on December 11, 1941 against the US did facilitate that!)
By 1947, the relationship had developed to the point that Gromyko, at the time Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, delivered in May a powerful speech in favor of the creation of the state of Israel (http://mideastweb.org/gromyko1947.htm ). Starting from a criticism of the “failure of the mandate,” he went on to describe the plight of the Jews: “During the last war, the Jewish people underwent exceptional sorrow and suffering. Without any exaggeration, this sorrow and suffering are indescribable. It is difficult to express them in dry statistics on the Jewish victims of the fascist aggressors. The Jews in territories where the Hitlerites held sway were subjected to almost complete physical annihilation. The total number of members of the Jewish population who perished at the hands of the nazi executioners is estimated at approximately six million. Only about a million and a half Jews in Western Europe survived the war.
“But these figures, although they give an idea of the number of victims of the fascist aggressors among the Jewish people, give no idea of the difficulties in which large numbers of Jewish people found themselves after the war. Large numbers of the surviving Jews of Europe were deprived of their countries, their homes and their means of existence. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are wandering about in various countries of Europe in search of means of existence and in search of shelter. A large number of them are in camps for displaced persons and are still continuing to undergo great privations.”
Gromyko then stated: “the fact that no western European State has been able to ensure the defence of the elementary rights of the Jewish people, and to safeguard it against the violence of the fascist executioners, explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own State. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realize this aspiration. It would be unjustifiable to deny this right to the Jewish people, particularly in view of all it has undergone during the Second World War.”
It is usual to think that this was the position of the United States, but things weren't so, as Netanyahu reminded his American audience at AIPAC: “In 1948, Secretary of State Marshall opposed David Ben-Gurion's intention to declare statehood. That's an understatement. He vehemently opposed it. But Ben-Gurion, understanding what was at stake, went ahead and declared Israel's independence.”
There was indeed a conflict within the Truman administration, and that's why while the US was the first country to de facto recognize Israel, de jure the Soviet Union was first, and US official recognition came only in 1949, well after Israel had won the war. Without the USSR's determination, and its five votes at the UN, probably the UN 1947 partition plan would have not seen the light of day: the vote was 33 for, 13 against and 10 abstentions. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Partition_Plan_for_Palestine )
The US stance was strongly influenced by Soviet behavior, because once it was clear that Moscow was championing Israel, it was very hard for Washington to adopt a different position.
The “honeymoon” between Moscow and Tel Aviv lasted for a few years, during which time Israel received weapons (including planes) from and with the help of Communist Czechoslovakia, while thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe were helped and encouraged to move to Israel. For Soviet Jews things were different, with bouts of repression and occasional, but rare good will moves.
This situation did not last for a number of reasons, a combination of “Socialist Israel” not being prepared to become some kind of Soviet-influenced/controlled country, or even just a buffer like Finland; but also a shift in the way Moscow perceived the best way to counter the US and Britain in the Middle East, taking advantage of “anti-imperialist” Arab nationalists like Egypt's Nasser. Israel's protests against the so-called “Doctors' Plot” were taken by Moscow as a decisive move to end diplomatic relations with Israel.
Mlecin's Russian book goes beyond Stalin's death to investigate further about the interaction between Israel and the Soviet Union (and then Russia) in the Middle Eastern arena. The third part of his book is titled “Boomerang,” and you can imagine where it goes. Basically, Mlecin shares the views of many Russians (both in Soviet times and later) that saw the huge effort of Moscow in trying to woo Arab countries in particular, and third world countries in general, as a waste of time and money.
In this specific case, he ends the book by referring to all the money sent to the PLO and to Yassir Arafat, not to mention the propaganda efforts in building the image of the “Palestinian Resistence” throughout the world, and these days in Chechnia these weapons are turned against Russia by terrorists who enjoy the support of Arab states, including the Palestinians.
It is not surprising that this chunk of the book was not translated into Italian. As is “Perché Stalin creò Israele” can be accepted by the various supporters of the Palestinians either as an example of a big mistake by Stalin and the USSR or else as further indication that “once Israel was good, now it's not.” The original text by Mlecin is not politically correct enough, probably.
JE comments: An outstanding history lesson from Luciano Dondero. In the US particularly, we can be quick to forget that the USSR was in many ways Israel's first champion.
Oh, here's the Whites' take on the diabolical Trotsky. He came out a tad larger than I anticipated, but this makes him even scarier. Note the hordes of Asian enforcers: