(This is a guest post by S.O.Muffin)
An enduring theme of 19th Century works of literature is “The Family With A Secret”. All seems fine in Chapter 1 with Mr and Mrs Average and their lovely children and extended family. Yet, the more the author probes, the more consecutive layers of memory are stripped onion-skin-like, the more we come to realise that things aren’t what they seem and that, at the root of it all, hides a secret. Now, there are many works of literature probing secrets, but the mystery at the heart of this particular type of book is very special: all the actors, no matter how in conflict with each other, no matter how heavy the burden of past history, conspire to hide the secret and cover it up.
The establishment of Israel and its early days are such a secret. Everybody, from enthusiastic Israeli supporters to her most unflinching opponents, agree on the basic narrative: a Western society, an outpost of capitalism and classical Western ideology, established in the Middle East through American support. Some see it as the redemption of persecuted, stateless people, others see it as an act of Western imperialism.
The only small problem is that it wasn’t necessarily so… The driving force of Zionism in the decades leading to 1948 were Socialist parties. Not Socialist like in “New Labour”, not even like in “Old Labour” but hard-core Socialists: nationalisation of means of production and of land, national ownership, the lot. Upon the establishment of Israel, the main party, Mapai (Israeli Workers Party), was an unashamedly socialist and sympathetic to the Soviet project. The second-largest, Mapam (United Workers Party), was explicitly Marxist‐Leninist. The kibbutz movement, trade unions and trade-union owned industrial enterprises were at the heart of the entire project. Indeed, a major problem Arab rulers had with the Zionist interlopers was this “contagion” of European Left-wing values.
This was contemporarily acknowledged by all the actors, inclusive of Arab nationalists. Their attitude to the Zionist project was much more nuanced than one might believe today. True, of course they resented the European newcomers. But (and this was before the days of Arab nationalism segueing into Islamism) they also admired them as an example how to kick the British imperialist butt: as Nasser stated in his ideological testament, The Philosophy of Revolution, they learned from the Zionists that it is possible to win against British imperialism. An interesting piece of trivia: The two Lehi (a.k.a. Stern Gang) assassins of Lord Moyne (the British Resident Minister in the Middle East) in 1944 were feted by Egyptian nationalists as anti-imperialist heroes.
A major factor that allowed the establishment of Israel and its survival in 1948 was Soviet support. The Soviet bloc’s votes determined the outcome of the 29 November 1947 UN vote. Even more importantly, weapons from Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia made all the difference in the 1948 war. Formally, there was a UN embargo on arming either side (an embargo observed to the letter by US), which was comprehensively breached by British, who have explicitly helped the Arab side. (Often by deploying RAF aircraft.) It was the Soviet Union that supported the other side ‐ not out of any moral or humanitarian reasons but because their main strategic interest in the Middle East was to get the Brits out. And if this meant a few pro-Zionist speeches in UN and consignments of Czech arms and fighter aircraft, so be it…
And then, in early 50ties, it all turned sour. The role of the socialist movement at the heart of the Israeli project became increasingly muted with the two huge waves of Jewish emigration, of Holocaust survivors and of refugees from Arab countries. Moreover, the need to pay for the absorption of waves of emigrants meant increasing reliance on Jewish American financial support and on Western political support. From the point of view of the Soviet Union, Israelis had served their purpose in 1948, made a breach in British colonial edifice ‐ but the next stage was hitching the Soviet wagon to the Arab nationalist star. Moreover, Soviets got a nasty shock because of the vocal and emotional support of Israel by Soviet Jews: it was one thing for Stalin to use Israel cynically, another to allow for double loyalty among his own imperial subjects. The next date was the Korean War and it signified Israel moving firmly to the Western camp.
So, this is the big family secret that nobody wishes to acknowledge today, each for their own reasons. And a good reason to bring it to light is the current unlimited, toxic hatred of the “anti-imperialist camp” toward the existence of Israel and all she stands for ‐ not toward Israeli policies, whatever they might be, but toward the very existence and legitimacy of the country. This hatred is always based upon ignorance and cultural insensitivity and often segues into open, explicit antisemitism. And, as always, hatred rests upon a lie and lie rests upon ignorance.