An in-depth discussion with renowned Palestinian scholar Joseph Massad details the alliance between Zionism and anti-Semitism.
At its annual gala this November, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) feted Sebastian Gorka alongside fellow Trump White House alumni Steven Bannon and Sean Spicer. The ZOA’s president, Morton Klein, has established a special relationship with the Trump administration, going out of his way to defend Gorka against accusations of Nazi sympathies.
On the eve of Trump’s election, Gorka appeared in nationally televised interviews clad in a black uniform bearing the medal of the Vitezi Rend, a Hungarian fascist group that collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Speaking at a conference organized by the right-wing Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post in May, Gorka defended his wearing the medal, proclaiming, “My father was awarded a medal in 1979 by anti-communist members of a splinter order outside Hungary … I am proud to wear that, as a response to everything that we face today.”
Vitzezi Rend has appeared on a US State Department list of “organizations under the direction of the Nazi government of Germany,” and its late founder, Miklos Horthy, reportedly declared, “I have always been an anti-Semite throughout my life.” During the anti-communist White Terror that took place between 1919 and 1921 in Hungary, Horthy presided over some 60 pogroms, and attacks on Jews continued through the 1920’s. When Nazi Germany occupied Hungary in 1944, Horthy participated in the deportation of 437,000 Jews to concentration camps.
Gorka’s attachment to a fascist order that reveres Horthy and his anti-Jewish legacy has not appeared to trouble supporters of Israel’s right-wing government. Not only has Gorka been an honored guest of the ZOA, he was welcomed by the Jerusalem Post, which received him with warm applause and a prominent speaking slot at its annual conference this May in New York. “The real agenda is clear: Gorka has written forcefully about the need to defeat the jihadi threat to Western civilization,” an op-ed defending Gorka in the Jerusalem Post read.
Along with his vitriolic anti-Muslim politics, Gorka’s full-throated support for Israeli settler colonialism has earned him the abiding friendship of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political network. For them, the rest — especially his membership in an organization that assisted in the extermination of Jews — is commentary.
This scenario is a microcosm of the disturbing dynamic playing out across Europe, where ultra-nationalist political parties with fascist roots are forging alliances with Israel’s leadership. Drawn together by a dedication to a perceived “clash of civilizations” between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world, officials from the far-right Alternative For Deutschland and the Austrian Freedom Party have been received for official visits by Israel’s governing Likud Party and even treated to visits at Yad Vashem, the country’s Holocaust memorial museum.
In Ukraine, Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the neo-Nazi street fighting organization known as Right Sector, was granted a private audience in 2014 with Israel’s ambassador, who proclaimed that “Right Sector will oppose all [racist] phenomena, especially anti-Semitism, with all legitimate means.” Under the watch of Yarosh and his allies, neo-Nazism has since exploded across Ukraine, with mass marches of torch-bearing fascists filling the streets of Kiev and monuments to pogromist Nazi collaborators sprouting up around the country. “Ukraine has more statues 4 killers of Jews than any other country,” the anti-Nazi activist and researcher Efraim Zuroff lamented on Twitter.
According to Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University and the author of the new book Islam in Liberalism, the emerging alliance between Zionists and European ultra-nationalists reflects an ongoing historical development that dates back to the late 19th century.
In a wide-ranging discussion with me and Ben Norton for our weekly podcast Moderate Rebels, Massad explained why, in his words, “Israel has no problem allying itself with anti-Semites who support its colonialism.” He asserted, “The problem [for Zionists] is not pro or anti-Jewishness with Israel, it’s pro-colonialism or anti-colonialism. Pro-Zionism as an colonial movement or not.”
Massad detailed the collaboration between Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and anti-Semites like Vyacheslav von Plehve, who oversaw brutal pogroms as the police chief of imperial Russia. Arthur Balfour, the former British Prime Minister and author of the Aliens Act that barred the immigration of Eastern European Jews to Britain, was also a key ally of Herzl and his Zionist Congress, which partnered with him on the infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917 “notwithstanding or precisely because of his anti-Semitic sentiment,” Massad noted.
Zionists like Herzl and anti-Semites like Balfour shared the view that the presence of assimilationist-minded Jews on the continent was unacceptable. Herzl “disdained poor Jews in Western Europe and blamed them for anti-Semitism,” according to Massad, and even argued that it was in the best interest of rich Jews to send poor Jews away to a colony in historic Palestine as it would reduce friction with Christian anti-Semites and allow poor gentiles to take their jobs.
Like Herzl, anti-Semitic European elites viewed a Jewish state as a convenient means for reducing the Jewish population within their societies. “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies,” Herzl declared.
“Anti-Semites saw in Zionism a kindred spirit and they shared with other Zionists the understanding that getting rid of European Jews somewhere else is a goal that they share,” Massad stated.
The alliance deepened during World War Two, as the Zionist movement broke the international Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany to embark on a lucrative Transfer Agreement with Hitler’s government that exchanged Jewish property for the bodies the Zionists needed to colonize Palestine. As Massad pointed out, when the fugitive Nazi functionary Adolph Eichmann was captured in 1960 and brought to Israel for trial a year later for war crimes, it was his second visit to the Holy Land. Indeed, Eichmann had been a guest of the Zionist movement in 1937, hosted for a tour of kibbutzim in historic Palestine by a double Zionist-Nazi agent named Feibl Folkes.
“Eichmann quoted Folkes to the effect that Zionist leaders were pleased by the persecution of European Jewry, since it would encourage emigration to Palestine,” the Israeli historian Tom Segev noted in his book The Seventh Million.
When anti-Semitism reared its head in US-aligned nations after the war, the state of Israel generally kept quiet. The disturbing silence was vividly illustrated during the liberal rebellion that momentarily seized power in Hungary in 1956. With assistance from the CIA, which aimed to wrest the country from the Warsaw Pact, the former commanders of Horthy’s collaborationist army were returned to Budapest, where they inspired widespread violence against Hungarian Jews.
As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “the fact that Hungary’s top four Communist leaders were of Jewish origin — including the dictator Matyas Rakosi, who reigned at the height of the Communist terror in the early 1950s — lent credibility to the idea of communism as Jewish revenge for the Holocaust.” (Herbert Aptheker’s 1956 book The Truth About Hungary is one of the most thorough chronicles of the return of fascism to the country during its anti-Soviet revolt, and can be read here for free).
While Soviet tanks put an end to the crisis, Israel drew critical benefits from its fallout. Thousands of Jewish refugees streamed out of Hungary and into the hands of an Israeli government desperate for fodder in its demographic trench war against the indigenous Palestinian population. It was not the first time that an eruption of anti-Semitism would serve the interests of the Zionist movement, and it would hardly be the last.
“That strategy would continue from Herzl on,” said Massad. “It was a continuing ideological cornerstone of Zionism, it has never stopped — we are speaking about something that is simply continuous.”