A reminder that using “anti-Zionism” as a cover for antisemitism, and identifying Israel as an agent of western “imperialism,” have a long and not-so-noble history.
On November 20, 1952, the trial of Rudolf Slansky, former general secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and 13 colleagues got under way in Prague. The Moscow-directed purge of the group, whose members were accused of plotting a “Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist” conspiracy at the behest of the United States, ended with the conviction of all 14. Eleven of them, including Slansky, the supposed ringleader, were Jews.
Slansky was a Stalinist who believed that the political struggle justified all means, and he would do most anything to remain within the party’s good graces: When he was in power, Slansky was as brutal as the regime that later ran roughshod over him.
Slansky was imprisoned and subjected to ongoing torture at Ruzyne, the same detention center he had built two years earlier. He and his fellow defendants all eventually confessed to all the charges – of “high treason, espionage, sabotage and military treason” — with their trial starting a year after the arrest, on November 20, 1952.
Anti-Semitism, in the guise of anti-Zionism and anti-cosmopolitanism, became a central theme in the purge. As [Czechoslovakian president Klement] Gottwald explained it, “Hitler persecuted the Jews because they went with us; but now the Jews are drawn to Anglo-American imperialism, which is supporting Israel and using Zionism as a disintegrative agent….”
Slansky attempted suicide several times during his imprisonment, but without success. In the interim, he and the other defendants spent much of the year being coached to recite the lines assigned them in a carefully written script for their trial.
Slansky confessed to leading a Zionist conspiracy meant to weaken the country’s economy, and attributed his treachery to having been “born into a middle-class Jewish family.”
The trial lasted eight days, and in the end, all of the rootless cosmopolitans were found guilty of all the charges. Eleven of them, including Slansky were sentenced to death, the remainder to life imprisonment. Slansky was hanged on December 2.
In the months that followed, Jewish officials were purged from key party positions and from jobs in municipal authorities. Additionally, all public Jewish cultural activity was banned, and a number of other “Zionists” were tried for treason.