Monday, February 09, 2009

A Bundist Comments on History As It Was Being Made

Motl Zelmanowicz and a Bundist view of the postwar era [h/t Arieh]

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Bundists were anti-Zionist. As such, they led their followers in Europe to death and destruction, unable to the end to comprehend the true situation of the Jewish people.

That they should continue to promulgate their ideology when all their assumptions and beliefs have been totally refuted by the events of WW2 and after is deeply disturbing.

bob said...

Anonymous, I think your comment is wrong and offensive. The death and destruction of European Jewry was the fault of the Nazis, and to suggest that the Bundists led their followers to the slaughter is insane. The Bundists had an exemplary record of physically resisting fascism in Europe. If anyone collaborated with this destruction in the Jewish community, it was the assimilationist community "leaders" who thought that they could function as normal under the Nazis, and the Zionists who prioritised creating a Jewish nation over saving Jewish lives.

The creation of a Jewish nation has not solved the "true situation" of European Jewry; quite the opposite.

Your implicit argument is essentially that Jews can never live side by side with non-Jews in Europe. I think that post-war history has "totally refuted" that argument. The rise of fascism in parts of Europe today constitutes a threat, of course, but not an existential threat to the Jewish people. The rise of Islamic and Arabic fascism in the Middle East (and its infectious spread to Europe), in contrast, may constitute such a threat, but that rise is directly linked to the Zionist project, and not to the Bundist project of co-existence and anti-racism.

TNC said...

"The Bundists were anti-Zionist. As such, they led their followers in Europe to death and destruction, unable to the end to comprehend the true situation of the Jewish people."

Don't people say similar things about the Zionists? You know, that they collaborated with Hitler, and viewed the Shoah as a means to encourage Jews to leave Europe and move to Palestine?

These sorts of "analysis" are refuted by the evidence but plenty of rad-lefties continue to believe this crap. Just as those on the right continue to believe the claims forwarded by Anonymous. Sad, if predictable.

Anonymous said...

It is not insane to point out that the Bundists led their followers to destruction. It is the truth. I do not say that the Bundists did so deliberately or malignly, as bob and TNC wrongly inferred.

The Bundist ideology was totally removed from reality - and their false consciousness concerning Zionism weakened Jewish resistance and played into the hands of the Germans.

As for Jews living side-by-side with Gentiles in Europe, the fact that all the major Jewish populations in Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and Russia have been liquidated leaves that very much a hypothetical question. Since the Jews of Europe hardly exist, they do not face existential threats.

The accusations made against Zionists of collaboration with the Nazis are false and evil. As would be such accusations made against Bundists.

Zionism has totally transformed the situation of the Jews, and for the better. Where before the Gentiles were able to mass murder Jews with impunity, today any who try find that it is their own blood that gets spilt. It is the sovereign Israeli state, populated with an organized, motivated and armed Jewish majority, that has brought about this change. The rise of Arab fascism and anti-Semitism is not a post-WW2 phenomenon, but the ability of Jews to confront and defeat such fascism is, and is a consequence of the political acuity of the Zionists.

bob said...

Well, "the" Zionists did not collaborate with the Nazis, but some Zionists did, which cannot be said about the Bund. But that's not the point is it.

As you say, the question is hypothetical to a certain extent: we cannot know what would have happened if the Shoah hadn't happened or if Israel hadn't been established in 1948. Neither the Zionist movement nor the Bundist movement, founded at roughly the same time (the same year?) predicted the scale of the destruction of European Jewry. Neither stopped it; neither could. It was not the fault of either; it was not the fault of the Jews. To say the Bund "led their followers in Europe to death and destruction" is a cruel and grossly unfair insult.

The Bundist philosophy was - and is - "doykayt": here-ness. You deal with the here and now, stay and fight, work to make things better. Actually, this strategy has pretty much worked for the Jews in America, in Britain and in Australia. "Gentiles" are not programmed to kill Jews; the destruction of European Jewry was not inevitable. In Germany today, for example, Jewish life is flourishing.

Zionism has totally transformed the situation of the Jews, and for the better. That is highly debatable. To be sure, there were antisemitic and pro-fascist currents in the Arabic and Islamic body politic before World War II, but the rise of Israel has sure stimulated its rise, and Israel does not appear to be having any success in stemming its tide: quite the opposite some might say. Where can we point to Israel having defeated Arabic or Islamic antisemitism? In Iran? Er, no. In Gaza and the West Bank and Lebanon, where Israel has the most military reach? Er, no: it's growing there too. In Europe? No again: all research shows that Arabic/Islamic antisemitic incidents "spike" with every spike in the Israeli military project. Arguably, if Israel were to kill all Arabs and Muslims, they might just wipe it out, but otherwise military confrontation is not going to be the strategy to beat Arabic/Muslim Jew-hatred.

Anonymous said...

"...Well, "the" Zionists did not collaborate with the Nazis, but some Zionists did..."

The word "collaborate" means "cooperate in order to bring about a shared desired outcome". To say "some Zionists collaborated with the Nazis" implies that these Zionists (who are they?) willed and voluntarily helped the Nazi murder of Jews - a bizarre, false and evil accusation.

It is perfecly fair to say that "the Bundists led their followers to death and destruction." As bob points out, the Bundist ideology was for the Jews to stay put where they were. This catastrophic misjudgement guaranteed the European Jews' deaths. The only way to save the Jews of Europe was to carry out an emergency mass evacuation, as called for by Jabotinsky. The Bundists and most Zionists did not foresee the Holocaust, but others did - Avraham Stern, Uri Zvi Greenberg and Leon Trotsky among them. It seems that in bob's world view the Bund's misjudging of political reality is a feather in its cap.

Israel cannot defeat antisemitism, but it can defeat antisemites. And the fact is, today Israel is repeatedly giving its antisemitic enemies a sound thrashing. This is a vast improvement on the achievements of the Jewish diaspora in confronting and punishing antisemites. And slowly but surely the Arab states and peoples are internalizing their defeats, and making their peace with Israel.

bob said...

I should not have used the overly charged word "collaborate" and withdraw it. Certainly, there was no shared goal (beyond Jews out of Europe). I regret my choice of words. But I was angered at the idea that the Bund were culpable for the deaths of the Shoah in "leading" the Jews to the gas chambers, which is also an offensive claim.

So, that's my first bottom line: any position which suggests that the Jews (any Jews) were in any sense responsible for the Holocaust is morally obscene. (For this reason, incidentally, I'd object to Jim Allen's Perdition, the ur-text of the contemporary anti-Zionist left, even if it were historically accurate.)

Second, yes, some Jews predicted the Holocaust, but most did not. To have failed to predict it is not a feather in Bundism's cap for me, but then having predicted it does not vindicate Trotsky's politics.

And, yes, a mass evacuation to Israel would have saved Europe's Jews, and in the clear vision of hindsight we can say it would have been better if that is what had happened.

But it was not the only thing that would have saved European Jewry. If America, Britain and other Allied nations had opened their doors to refugees would have done equally as well, and perhaps had better long-term consequences. More counterfactually, if the Comintern had not instructed the German Communists to pursue their suicidal ultra-left "Third Period" politics during Hitler's rise and had worked together with the Social Democrats, Hitler may well have been beaten before he started. Or if Britain had listened to Churchill earlier, or if America had entered the war earlier...

My second bottom line, though, is that the notion that Europeans and/or "Gentiles" are somehow pre-programmed to Judeocide, always and forever - the Zionist understanding of "the true situation of the Jewish people" - is utterly wrong. The Holocaust did not come from nowhere, but it was exceptional in European history.

Finally (and sorry for going on so long when you have been answering so succinctly), on Israel defeating antisemites. It is true that some Arab states are making their peace with Israel, and that Israel's military might has something to do with that. (I think that American power and oil geopolitics has more to do with it though. And I'm not sure it impacts on levels of actual antisemitism on the Arab street; in fact it might make it worse by generating resentment.)

But in the actual wars Israel has fought, certainly since the 1980s, it has given a "sound thrashing" to enormous numbers of civilians, antisemitic or not, and that has fuelled the rise of antisemitism globally.

But let me be clear: I am NOT saying that this rise in antisemitism is in any way Israel's (or Zionism's) "fault". The question is, what is the best way Israel can address this global rise, and I'm not sure the "sound thrashing" strategy is the right one.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"But it was not the only thing that would have saved European Jewry. "

From the Peel Commission Report (July 1937), one sentence distinguishes itself:

"Considering what the possibility of finding a refuge in Palestine means to thousands of suffering Jews, is the loss occasioned by Partition, great as it would be, more than Arab generosity can bear?"

And then I remember what I learned from watching the Israeli produced docu-drama about the Kastner Trial.

One of the most chilling testimonies in the trial was that of Joel Brand, which demonstrated how impotent was the Jewish Agency in 1944 when it came to mobilizing the British and American powers to intervene in any way on behalf of the doomed European Jews.

"Brand later testified that Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in the Middle East and a close friend of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was present during one of the interrogations and is alleged to have said: "What can I do with this million Jews? Where can I put them?"

The first statement was written in 1937, when the world was beginning to get wise to what was being planned for the Jews, but even so, the report can only imagine "thousands" of suffering Jews getting a lease on life if permitted to immigrate to Palestine.

The second statement is made in 1944, when most of the world was already familiar with the dire reports that kept coming from Europe about the annihilation of millions of Jews. In the interim, the British Mandate restricted severely Jewish immigration, in spite of the warning in the Peel report that things looked very bad for the Jews in Europe. The Peel Report does not say that the land is saturated to the point where it can no longer accept more immigrants. Quite the contrary. It stipulates the importance of continued Jewish immigration and British commitment to it. Yet the British restricted immigration, because they buckled to Arab pressure to do so.

The Arabs of Palestine, though addressed with the most explicit plea in the report for showing "generosity" to the persecuted Jews of Europe, existentially threatened, did not for a second consider this possibility and continued to mount their pressure on the British to seal the borders. When there was hardly a country in the world open to accept Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler's ominous programmes, Mandate Palestine, which had been commissioned with the provision of a safe haven for Jews, chose to close ranks with the Arabs and seal the borders, against the Jews.

The only place that would have welcomed these refugees and could have saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, joined the rest of the world's complicity in these crimes.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob,

In what way is Hannah Arendt's claims about the judenrat's complicity in the Nazi extermination project different from anon's claim that the Bundists "led their followers in Europe to death and destruction"?

bob said...

Two very good points CC. On the second, I will have to think hard about that - and maybe look again at Eichmann in Jerusalem* - before answering. But I think Arendt's argument is in the context of a larger argument that totalitarianism destroys its victims' capacity for resistance and humanity. That is, she does not indict them for making the "wrong choice" so much as indict totalitarianism for making it impossible for them to make the "right choice".

bob said...

And on the first point, what you are saying makes clear that the Zionist "solution" to the problem of the Holocaust (mass evacuation to Erets Israel) was as impossible as any Bundist "solution" (staying put, moving to America). Its impossibility being due to both to lack of will amongst the Allies and Arab opposition.

Anonymous said...

Jim Allen's "Perdition" is a tissue of lies concocted by a satanically evil man. However, it is very difficult to understand the events in Hungary at the time, and many people of goodwill in Israel and elsewhere have failed in this task.

Two who did not fail were Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, who executed the British war criminal Lord Moyne. They were disciples of Avraham Stern, who foresaw the Holocaust and actually tried to do something about it.

The Jews were foiled as much by Allied callousness as anything else. Hitler noted only too well the lack of solidarity with the Jews, and was encouraged in his bloodletting by it. Both the British and US actively sabotaged and obstructed attempts to save Jews, pressuring neutrals from granting refuge, preventing Jews from escaping, and systematically suppressing information about the extermination. Millions died who could have been saved.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Two who did not fail were Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet-Zuri, who executed the British war criminal Lord Moyne."

Maybe Moyne was a war criminal. The Brits probably view him as a pragmatist who wanted the Germans to continue to divert manpower and resources into settling their own internal demographic problem and away from their war efforts. And never forget that in his indifference to the one million Jewish lives he was only obeying the policies of the Britain's Palestine administration. So it is Britain that needs to be indicted for war crimes and indirect complicity, not Moyne, a loyal cog in the machine.

It was not up to these two men to decide who would pay the price for that moral atrocity.

Why do you suppose there is no impulse towards self-examination of this kind among the Brits?

Anonymous said...

"...Why do you suppose there is no impulse towards self-examination of this kind among the Brits?..."

The British stick together, right or wrong. They do not believe, as Jews do, that truth is holy. They never apologize and never explain. And many among them believe that the Jews brought their troubles upon themselves, though they cannot articulate precisely how persuasively. They also find it difficult to see the others' point of view, even though they pride themselves as being able to do so and even claim it as a national characteristic.

There is only one time that I can recall that Eden's wartime policies were criticized as immoral in a British journal of opinion. That was when Count Tolstoy campaigned to bring to light the postwar British handover of Ukrainian and Russian anti-Soviet and hence pro-German militias to the Titoist Communists, who then executed them all, men, women and children. Tolstoy was put down savagely by the British establishment and hasn't been heard of since. Incidentally, Tolstoy is one of the very few to mention Eden's gratuitous sabotage of a Swedish wartime plan to save thousands of Jewish children, and to point out the sheer bloodymindedness of that act.

bob said...

The facts surrounding Lord Moyne - whether, for example, he really made the 1 million Jews remark - are the subject of considerable contention. Interpreting them is even more contentious. Certainly, there were repugnant aspects to him. But the idea that he was a war criminal is, in my view, far-fetched; the idea that he deserved "execution" is even more so. He was no worse than many other British colonial figures, and better than many. It is, incidentally, my understanding that Lehi planned to assassinate the British Minister Resident before Moyne was in that role, and the extra justification generated by his possible involvement in the whole blood for trucks issue was a retrospective justification.

Whether his "execution" did any good to the Zionist cause is at best debatable: it certainly damaged the standing of the Zionist cause in Whitehall (not least with his close friend the pro-Zionist Churchill) and was a nail in the coffin for Partition.

As for the British failure to reckon with this history, it has nothing to do with some collective British propensity for falsehood (the idea that "the British" are liars is as absurd as the idea that "the Jews" are dishonest). Simply, the British have failed to reckon with any of its colonial history, locked into a melancholic attachment to a moment when Britain was "great". We have the same ruling class in Britain as we had then - the same families - and is not in their interest to have Britain's colonial record truly exposed. Britain is in denial about its crimes in India, Kenya, Malaysia and any number of other places.

Perhaps British ruling class antisemitism, and some lingering Orientalist Arabophilia in the diplomatic elite also has a role too, but secondary to this colonialist history.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"Simply, the British have failed to reckon with any of its colonial history, locked into a melancholic attachment to a moment when Britain was "great"."

Well, in classical Freudian terms, the British loathing for Zionism and Israel is one way of dealing with their past, by sheer projection of nightmarish gigantity (is there such a word?).

Frankly, I'm getting fed up with Jews being the experimental test tube into which past paralyzing guilts and monstrosities are poured. I wish people dealt directly with whatever national demons haunt their minds rather than try to purify themselves by scapegoating Israel.

Of course the Brits, who enjoy a prestige (often unmerited, in spite of Shakespeare and Jane Austen) are not likely to turn their gynecological prying instruments upon themselves. On North American TV, you can make the most egregious and defamatory statements about Jews or Israel or anybody, as long as you say it in an English accent, you are unlikely to provoke any disagreement. The English accent can hypnotize American and Canadians alike into groveling self-abasement.

Many commercials on TV have in more recent years been delivered with an English accent voice. It seems to lend authority to whatever claims are made, whether cosmetics or computers or whatever. Someone must have researched what affects consumer credulousness and came up with this formulation. If it works for a facial cream, it can work for demonizing Israel. It is that simple.