interview in Jewish Press with Stephen Norwood on Antisemitism and the American Far Left

Eunice Pollack Discussion

Here is a link to an interview with Stephen H. Norwood in the Jewish Press on his latest book Antisemitism and the American Far Left. In the interview Norwood discusses the historical roots and development of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on the American far left as well as those occasions on which elements of the far left combatted antisemitism and supported Israel.

Eunice G. Pollack

Dept. of History

University of North Texas or

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I'd like to thank Eunice Pollack for bringing attention to Stephen Norwood's important book Antisemitism and the American Far Left (Cambridge UP, 2013). I plan to read it in the near future, and I'm sure that in it Professor Norwood provides a more detailed analysis of Stalin's crucial decision to support the creation of the Israeli state than we find in his replies to Elliot Resnick.

Norwood's response in the interview to why Stalin initially supported Israel rightly focuses on geopolitics and the Kremlin's desire to dislodge the bankrupt British Empire from the Middle East.  This argument is well supported by primary sources and has been the standard thesis in much of the secondary literature for some time.  But now there is more.

New evidence from the former Soviet bloc archives which, in my view, provide a more complex argument to help explain Stalin's decision at the time.

Regarding the apparent paradox of the decision, by a practicing antisemite, even if some insist Stalin was, at best, a late-comer to that particularly odious game, it should now be noted that Stalin's own commitment to world revolution as well as antisemitic myths enabled his initial support for Israel.  The international Communist movement wanted Israel and its Jewish community to join Stalin's camp as much as the Kremlin sought the collapse of British Imperial rule.

The same Jewish Communists who stayed with Stalin and joined his campaigns to wipe out Trotsky and the 'Trotskyites' around the world, from at least 1928, real and imagined, especially in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, found themselves campaigning for Zionism, along with no less loyal comrades among the institutions and armed units of the Yishivu.  Many Communists, no less than many antisemites, found the Judeo-Communism myth (Jews alone spread world Communism) expedient, anticipating a 'Red' Israel.  But only if the Jews defeated the Arabs, which they finally did in early 1949.

An unholy trinity, if you will, namely geopolitical dogma, Communist faith in world revolution, and an antisemitic myth was just what Stalin needed to give Zionism, especially the Zionist-socialists, mostly from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, a fighting chance.

As soon as he 'suspected' the Zionist and their Communist backers of betrayal, he turned on both, leaning more on Jewish Communists in his bloc.  They were already caught up from 1948 in another campaign, this one against the renegade Tito of Yugoslavia (also an early Zionist supporter) and his so-called 'agents', mostly imagined, in eastern Europe.

While prosecutors around the world have often piled on charges against accused suspects, Stalin's people specialized in piling on mass conspiracies against their victims.  The campaign against the Titoists, when directed at Jewish Communists, beginning in late 1949 and reaching its peak in the early 1950s, added the old 'Trotskyite' and 'Jewish nationalism' charges, and the newer 'Zionism' charge, with the greatest wrath reserved for Hungarian and Czechoslovakian party bosses.

They had taken over prewar but modern arms industries and their parties played leading roles along with the Yugoslav and Greek Communists in the movement of Holocaust survivors to Mandated Palestine.  Stalin's death in early 1953 largely saved the Jewish Communists in Poland, who got off relatively lightly, a fact not forgotten by their 'victims', the Polish comrades, purged from 1948 as 'Titoists' and 'Polish nationalists'.

The Arab-Israeli War of June 1967 resurrected charges of 'Zionism' and 'Jewish nationalism' against Poland's Jewish Communists, leading to a charge against all Polish Jews (mostly non- or anti-Communists) of belonging to a 'fifth-column', and culminating in the mass exodus of most of Poland's remaining Jews following the student revolts of March 1968.

Leszek Gluchowski