Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice

Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice

by Bernard Lewis

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"A powerful book. It combines the coolness of scholarship with conclusions that cannot fail to engage the passions."—Saul Bellow

The Arab-Israeli conflict has unsettled the Middle East for over half a century. This conflict is primarily political, a clash between states and peoples over territory and history. But it is also a conflict that has affected and been affected by prejudice. For a long time this was simply the "normal" prejudice between neighboring people of different religions and ethnic origins. In the present age, however, hostility toward Israel and its people has taken the form of anti-Semitism-a pernicious world view that goes beyond prejudice and ascribes to Jews a quality of cosmic evil. First published in the 1980s to universal acclaim, Semites and Anti-Semites traces the development of anti-Semitism from its beginnings as a poison in the bloodstream of Christianity to its modern entrance into mainstream Islam. Bernard Lewis, one of the world's foremost scholars of the Middle East, takes us through the history of the Semitic peoples to the emergence of the Jews and their virulent enemies, and dissects the region's recent tragic developments in a moving new afterword. "A powerful and important work, beautifully written and edited, and based on a range of erudition (in the best sense) that few others, if any, could command."—George Kennan

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393318395
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/17/1999
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 1470L (what's this?)

About the Author

Bernard Lewis (1916—2018), the author or editor of more than two dozen books, was the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

May 31, 1916

Place of Birth:

London, England


B.A., University of London, 1936; Diplome des Etudes Semitiques, University of Paris, 1937; Ph.D., University of London,

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Holocaust and After

In the years 1939 to 1945, between five and six million human beings, one million of them children, were rounded up, herded into camps, and put to death in a variety of ways, simply because they were Jews. In the earlier stages they were lined up and mowed down by machine gun fire, to fall neatly into the ditches which they had just been forced to dig. Later, a new technology of murder was devised by which far greater numbers could be tidily and expeditiously put to death, while their salvageable remains --hair, teeth, and animal fats—were preserved and stored by their frugal murderers for future use.

    This operation was conceived and planned by the Nazi rulers of Germany, and in large measure executed by Germans. They were not alone in this, however. The successful completion of the task depended on many others besides the Germans themselves—on the active collaboration of significant numbers of people in the countries influenced or conquered by Germany, the complicity of many more, and the indifference of vast masses, not only in German-occupied Europe but extending to neutral lands and even, in a certain sense, to the governments and peoples of the Western alliance.

    The five or six million Jews who died in the German death camps were only a fraction of the tens of millions who lost their lives in Hitler's war. But they were unique in certain important respects. The Germans succeeded, before their final defeat and surrender, in exterminating almost all of the Jews in occupied countries, amounting toabout one-third of all the Jews in the world. There can be no doubt that they would have slaughtered the Jews of any other countries that might have fallen into their hands. No other group, not even the Russians, suffered comparable losses, nor were any the targets of comparable ferocity. Indeed, with the solitary exception of the Gypsies, no other group was designated for systematic and total extermination.

    The reason for their destruction was not that they were opponents or enemies of Germany—indeed, the earliest victims of Nazi persecution were the Jews of Germany, proud, loyal, and patriotic German citizens. It was not, as in some areas occupied by Germany, to clear living space for German settlement, since the Jews were too scattered and in Eastern Europe too impoverished to offer any prospects for such a policy. Some Jews were indeed engaged in resistance against the German occupation, but, among Jews as among others, these were a small, militant minority among the general civil population who asked only to be left alone. They were not removed because their removal was essential to the German war effort. On the contrary, the attack on the Jews obstructed the German war effort, by diverting transport, personnel, and resources urgently needed elsewhere and—in a broader perspective—by depriving the German war effort of manpower and of skills that might otherwise have served it to good purpose. They were chosen for death simply because they were Jews—not even by their own definition of Jewishness, their own acceptance and assertion of identity, but in accordance with a definition devised by their persecutors. This included not only Jews who knew themselves to be such, but substantial numbers of Christians, agnostics, and others whose Jewishness might consist of no more than partial Jewish descent. Jewishness, for the Nazis, was not a religious or cultural quality; it did not consist in belonging to a community or a people. It was an attribute of race, inherited and immutable, and so potent that even one grandparent out of four belonging to this race transmitted an indelible taint which put its inheritor beyond the pale of humanity.

    The doctrine in accordance of which the rulers of Nazi Germany diagnosed this problem and devised what they called its final solution was known as anti-Semitism. At the present day, when anti-Semitism has become a term of abuse, of condemnation, which few, even among anti-Semites, will apply to themselves, it is well to recall that the term was originally invented and used by the adherents of the doctrine, not by its opponents. For those who believed in it, anti-Semitism was seen as a kind of antisepsis, its purpose being to identify, isolate, neutralize, and eventually eliminate a dangerous poison which if left unchecked would spread and infect the whole of what was variously defined as European, Christian, Western, or Aryan civilization.

    For the Nazis, though not for all anti-Semites, the key word is Aryan. In the demon-ridden nightmare of Nazi ideology, two demiurgic figures are engaged in a cosmic struggle for the domination of the world. They are the Aryan and the Semite, replacing the good and evil principles of more conventional cosmologies. The Aryan, who achieves his finest embodiment in the German race, represents beauty, creativity, and above all strength. He alone is capable of creating cultures and building civilizations, which some lesser breeds may help to preserve and transmit. The Semite is incapable of creation or even conservation. He can only destroy, and he is engaged in a constant effort, using his own and other inferior races, to penetrate and undermine Aryan society, to defile and mongrelize the glorious Aryan race. Even the detested presence of African colonial troops in the French occupation forces in Western Germany after World War I was attributed by Hitler to this evil Jewish purpose: "It was and is the Jews who bring the Negro to the Rhine, always with the same concealed thought and the clear goal of destroying, by the bastardization which would necessarily set in, the white race which they hate."

    According to Nazi doctrine Jews were alien and hostile intruders in Europe because they belonged to another race, different from that to which most Europeans belonged, inferior, and therefore hostile. While most Europeans belonged to the Aryan race, Jews were part of the Semitic race, and in this lay the main difference. In principle, therefore, other nations and peoples belonging to the same Semitic race should have been seen by the Nazis as equally inferior and contemptible, if not equally dangerous. Indeed, Hitler in Mein Kampf speaks with contempt of Asian and African nationalist movements, and commends the use of brutal severity in suppressing them. The early Nazi theoretical literature accords a certain secondary status to Far Eastern peoples, as imitators and conservers of the culture which the Aryans alone are capable of creating, but dismisses Arabs and other Semites as inferiors incapable of creative cultural effort. According to a standard Nazi textbook of World History on a Racial Basis, every original element in Arabic culture is borrowed from Aryan peoples; even the Thousand and One Nights are not an original Arab production but are based on copies of Persian and Indian, and therefore Aryan, works. In a Nazi essay on Islam, Jengiz Khan, the Mongol conqueror and destroyer of the Caliphate, is praised as one who tried to save the Middle East from its Semitic oppressors. One of the major Nazi theorists, Alfred Rosenberg, in his authoritative Myth of the Twentieth Century even warns the white races to be on their guard "against the united hatred of colored races and mongrels led in the fanatical spirit of Muhammad."

    In the event, however, these theoretical formulations proved to have little real effect. Apart from the Jews, only one people, the Gypsies, despite their impeccably Aryan origins, were singled out for destruction, and only one other race, the blacks, subjected to unremitting hatred and contempt. The Arabs, in contrast, though classed as Semites in the Nazi literature, were accorded a very different treatment by the rulers of the Nazi state. Despite some initial reluctance and continuing uncertainty, due more to political than to ideological considerations, the Nazis decided that the Arabs might be useful to them, and made some effort both to win Arab sympathy for Nazi ideas and to mobilize Arab support for German purposes.

    In the first of these enterprises, they achieved some, but limited, results. In the second, however, despite presumed racial incompatibilities and despite an evident lack of commitment, they were remarkably successful. As the major challengers to the British and French empires, the Germans had an obvious attraction for the unwilling subjects of those empires in the Middle East and elsewhere. As the leading exponents and practitioners of hostility to the Jews, they could count on ready and sympathetic attention from those who felt themselves threatened by the growth of the Jewish National Home in Palestine. That they themselves were contributing very largely to the growth of that Jewish National Home, by driving their own Jews into exile, does not seem to have weighed very much with their Arab listeners.

    If the German government was unwilling to make specific promises on future Arab political aims, they were in contrast unambiguously forthcoming on the Jewish question. German promises to the Arab leaders to eliminate the Jewish National Home were obviously heartfelt and sincere, and no doubt compensated for their cautious vagueness in other matters.

    Active hostility to Jews from those who, for one reason or another, had become Hitler's allies or sympathizers was to be expected. More surprising, and more wounding, were the negative reactions among many of those who themselves had been Hitler's victims or his opponents in arms. These reactions ranged from murderous violence to cold insensitivity. This latter term may reasonably be applied to some senior British and American officials who—as the contemporary record reveals—during the war received the news from Germany about massive slaughter first with scepticism and then with unconcern. After the armistice they saw the wretched survivors of the death camps primarily as a political embarrassment.

    Even more devastating was the reception given to some of these survivors when they attempted to return to their former homes. By August 1945 about 80,000 Jews had reached Poland, out of the 3 million who had lived there in 1939. Of these some 13,000 were serving in the Polish Army, the remainder were survivors of the camps and refugees who had managed to escape into the Soviet Union or elsewhere during the German occupation. Hitler and the German forces had gone, but anti-Semitism—neither new nor alien in Poland—remained, and found justification in the presence of a number of Jews in the new administration which was being set up under Soviet auspices. The first serious anti-Jewish outbreak occurred in Cracow on August 11, 1945. It was followed by others all over Poland, in which some hundreds of returning Jews were murdered by mobs. The worst occurred in the city of Kielce in June 1946, in which dozens of returning Jews were killed by their neighbors. The civil authorities did little to halt these murderous outbreaks; the ecclesiastical authorities refused to denounce the hatreds which had caused them. The attitude of the people, the church, and the authorities to these events quickly persuaded the returning Jews that the thousand-year-long history of the Jews in Poland had come to an end and that only by going elsewhere could they hope to rebuild their shattered lives. For most of them, elsewhere meant a place where their survival would not be dependent either on the goodwill of their neighbors or the protection of some alien authority.

    In general, however, in the civilized world, there was a revulsion against anti-Semitism, as the full horror of the Nazi genocide became known. The liberation of the German camps by the advancing Allied armies, followed by the trial of the German war criminals at Nuremberg, produced a worldwide reaction. It gave rise to feelings of compassion for Jewish suffering and, as a consequence, of sympathy for Jewish purposes. This also affected great numbers, both of individuals and of institutions, that were uneasily conscious of their own, at best, equivocal roles in the Nazi Holocaust—the failure of all but a chosen few to resist or even protest the Nazi crimes against the Jews; the willingness of far too many to accept and even assist in the commission of these crimes; the refusal of others, beyond the Nazi reach, to discommode themselves either to prevent the crime or to succor its victims.

    In this new atmosphere anti-Semitism was seen as an obscenity, something to which even anti-Semites would not admit openly. In the English-speaking countries, notably in the United States, the genteel but effective forms of discrimination which had quietly limited Jewish advancement were largely, if sometimes unwillingly, abandoned under the pressure of a public opinion which was no longer prepared to accept such discrimination and which saw in a restricted fraternity the first step on the road to Auschwitz. Even the anti-Semitic repartee which had previously been commonplace was now taboo except among trusted intimates.

    In England, where the barriers against Jews had been fewer, the ban on anti-Jewish remarks was less strict. A few were still heard from time to time even in public. A famous example was the off-the-cuff remark by Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, at a press conference, when he was becoming impatient with Zionist insistence on a hearing for their claims to a Jewish state: "If the Jews, with all their sufferings, want to get too much at the head of the queue, you have the danger of another anti-Semitic reaction through it all." This was too much for the raw nerves of the survivors, and Dr. Chaim Weizmann was expressing the general Jewish response when he asked: "Is it getting too much at the head of the queue if, after the slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews, the remnant ... implore the shelter of a Jewish homeland?"

    The last three years of the British Mandate in Palestine, from 1945 to 1948, produced a tragic confrontation between the Jews in Palestine and their sympathizers, and the government and soldiers of that one country which for a whole year had stood alone against Hitler's Europe and had formed the nucleus of the alliance which ultimately defeated and destroyed him. In essence, this was not a matter of prejudice or hostility, but a clash of interests and purposes. Before long it amounted to an armed conflict between the Jewish community in Palestine, determined to establish a Jewish state, and the British government, determined to prevent it, in the ultimately vain hope of winning Arab support, or at least acquiescence, for British imperial purposes.

    Inevitably, the armed conflict in Palestine produced an anti-Zionist and in some measure an anti-Jewish reaction, first among British officials and soldiers serving in Palestine, then among the British public generally. The former had, since the early years of the Mandate, tended to develop Arab sympathies. The latter were particularly outraged by the terrorist tactics adopted by some of the Jewish organizations. In the 1940s, it should be recalled, terrorism had not yet entered on its new and still current phase, in which the objective is media coverage and the method is to strike at those, preferably unarmed and innocent bystanders, whose sudden and dramatic death would be most conducive to this end. The terrorism of that generation, of both the mufti's men and the Jewish Irgun in Palestine, and of others in Aden, Greece, India, and elsewhere, was directed not at the media but at the adversary and was intended to weaken and frighten him by striking at the institutions, personnel, and symbols of his power. Even this could deeply shock and outrage public opinion. On July 30, 1947, in fulfillment of a threat to exact vengeance for the hanging of three Irgun men in the Acre jail on the previous day, two British sergeants who had been captured by the Irgun were hanged, their bodies taken to a nearby wood, hung between two trees, and booby trapped. When British troops found them and cut down the first body, the mine exploded. It blew the corpse to pieces, and wounded the British officer who cut it down. The same evening British soldiers and policemen roamed through Tel Aviv breaking the windows of shops and vehicles and assaulting passers-by. The following day when the story of the hangings and the booby trap appeared on the front pages of the English newspapers, with banner headlines and photographs, a wave of anger followed and there were anti-Jewish demonstrations in London, Manchester, Liverpool, and other cities. In the circumstances, and by the standards of the time, the response was mild. Some windows were broken in Jewish shops and synagogues; there were many cases of willful damage and a few of suspected arson. There were no cases of bodily injury to Jews.

    The failure of the British policy in Palestine, and the general reprobation of that policy in a world still shocked by the recent revelations of Nazi crimes, brought a change in the atmosphere. After the termination of the British Mandate in May 1948, public manifestations of anti-Jewish sentiment, in England as in the rest of the Western world, ceased to be socially or politically acceptable. If anything, there was a move to the opposite extreme, and even reasonable criticism of Jewish action was muted, either out of compassion or fear of being charged with anti-Semitism. Even the peoples of continental Europe, who had always had a stronger stomach than the British or the Americans in these matters, developed a new squeamishness. Overt anti-Semitism was generally condemned. In Germany it was legally forbidden. In most of the countries of continental Europe the Jewish communities were reduced by the Nazi genocide to a small fraction of what they had once been. The one exception was France, where the remnants of the old Franco-Jewish community were suddenly reinforced by a large-scale immigration of Jewish refugees from elsewhere, especially from Arab North Africa. With Britain, which had never known the Nazi yoke and where the Jewish community therefore had suffered no more than the normal hazards of war, these constituted the two largest Jewish communities in Europe west of the Soviet Union.

    In addition to the revulsion from Nazi atrocities there was another development in postwar Europe which helped to divert the pressure from the Jews. This was the change taking place in much of Western Europe in the significance of the term race. Before the war, apart from a few small groups of seamen who had settled in seaports, blacks were almost unknown in Europe. Of the few who were seen around, most were students, or sometimes doctors and other professionals who had elected to stay after completing their studies. The racial difference between whites and blacks was in general only perceived as an issue by that small minority of Europeans with direct experience or knowledge of Africa or the West Indies. The only occasion when significant numbers of Africans were present in a European country, and their presence gave rise to tensions with the local white population, was when French African colonial troops formed part of the French occupation force in Germany after World War I and helped to fuel the racism of the young Adolf Hitler. But more commonly the term "race" had been used to denote the different groups among Europeans, of the type that today would be described as ethnic. The word race was for example normally and even officially used in Britain to denote the four elements—English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish—that together composed the British nation. With the rise of Nazism and the growing influence of Nazi phraseology, even among anti-Nazis, the term race came to be used almost exclusively to denote the difference between the so-called Aryan and Semitic races—basically a new and pseudoscientific way of saying gentiles and Jews. It was not until the postwar period, with the worldwide acceptance of American usage, that the word race came to be used in a more strictly anthropological sense. It came to denote, above all else, the difference between whites and blacks.

    The first non-Arab government after the fall of Hitler to initiate an official hate campaign—albeit slightly disguised—against Jews was that of the Soviet Union. Almost from the time of the great October Revolution, the Soviet regime in dealing with its Jewish citizens had been locked in a dilemma of its own making. In almost all Western countries, apart from those with explicitly anti-Semitic regimes, the Jews were considered as a religious minority, sharing the same nationality as the majority. In English, both British and American, and in French, the word nationality is much the same as citizenship, denoting the state to which one owes allegiance and the label on one's passport. Men and women of American or British or French nationality might be of different religions; this is not relevant to their nationality, i.e., their citizenship, and is not recorded on their passports or other identity documents. The Soviet Union, as an atheist, Marxist state, did not recognize religion as a category, nor enter it on any official documents. It did however recognize Jews as a distinct entity, and classified them as an ethnic nationality—in Russian, natsional'nost'. Soviet passports and other official documents have two rubrics where Western passports have only one. One of them indicates the bearer's grazhdanstvo, or citizenship; the second his natsional'nost', or ethnic nationality. The first, for all who owe allegiance to the Soviet Union, is called Soviet; the second may be Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, or any of the other ethnic groups, great or small, within the Soviet Union. For those born to Jewish parents, whatever their religious belief or unbelief, their natsional'nost' is Jewish, and this is inscribed in all documents, at school, work, play, in the forces, even on a reader's ticket for the library. Ethnic nationality, unlike religion, cannot be changed by an act of conversion, and a Soviet Jew recorded as such on his papers must remain so for the rest of his life—unless he manages, as some have done, to disappear and reappear in another part of the country, with forged papers.

    In the early days of the Soviet regime, Jews were no worse off than other nationalities and very much better off than they had been under the czars. They were even allowed the privilege, accorded to other nationalities, of developing their own culture in their own language, deemed to be Yiddish. True, the Jewish religion was discouraged, but so were all others. Zionism was proscribed and suppressed, but so were all ideologies besides communism and all allegiances other than that owed to the Soviet state. They lived for the most part in poverty and fear, but so did most of their Soviet compatriots except for the small ruling groups—and in these Jews were well represented.

    The first sign of a serious deterioration in the relative position of the Jews came with the gradual withdrawal and final disappearance of their cultural rights and privileges. They were still classed as Jews by nationality, but were systematically cut off from the sustenance of their Jewish roots. Yet even while they were being Russified in language and culture, they could not become Russians except by fraud, with all the moral and personal dangers that this involved.

    The position became far worse after the German-Soviet agreement of August 1939, and the virtual alliance between the two dictators which followed it. The whole tone of the Soviet media toward Nazi Germany changed dramatically. Anti-Semitism suddenly became tolerable and even respectable, and Jews were looked at now—also officially—in a different way. After the outbreak of war in 1939, when the Soviets joined with the Germans to partition Poland, Soviet authorities in the annexed Polish territories began immediate action against Zionist organizations and leaders. Two Jewish socialist leaders, unconnected with Zionism, and suspected of insufficient enthusiasm for the Soviet cause, were summarily executed. Similar repressions of Jews, Judaism, and Zionism followed in other East European territories annexed by the Soviet Union during the phase of collaboration with Nazi Germany—in the three Baltic republics which were wholly absorbed, and in Bessarabia, forcedly taken from Rumania with Nazi acquiescence. The purpose of these actions does not appear to have been to oppress the Jews as such but merely to dejudaize them, cut them off from any Jewish connections or affinities, and place them in the same uncomfortable limbo as the Jews of Russia herself.

    This phase came to an end in June 1941 when Hitler launched a devastating attack against the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany was now the enemy, and Nazism, in all its aspects, odious. Soviet Jews played their full part in the defense of the Soviet Union against the invaders and Stalin even permitted some limited revival of specifically Jewish activity. A "Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee" was formed in Moscow, with a number of Jewish writers and actors—some of them rehabilitated for the occasion. The purpose was to appeal to Jews in Britain and above all in the United States and thus help to mobilize public opinion in favor of the Soviet Union and ultimately in favor of a second front in the West.

    Like so many others before and after him, Stalin greatly overestimated the effectiveness of Jewish influence, but it certainly served some purpose. This relatively benign attitude continued for a while after the end of hostilities. Soviet authorities turned a blind eye to Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe and the Soviet government for once agreed with the United States and gave its blessing to the creation of the State of Israel. Russia even permitted the satellite government of Czechoslovakia to supply the arms which saved the infant state from death in its cradle. It is difficult to believe that Stalin, who killed countless millions in his own concentration camps, was moved by compassion for the plight of Hitler's surviving victims. A much more likely explanation is that he saw in Jewish migration to Palestine and the struggle for a Jewish state a useful way of weakening and eventually eliminating the power of Britain, then still his principal Western rival in the Middle East.

    By the beginning of 1949, however, it was becoming clear that Soviet recognition of Israel was not aiding Soviet policy as expected. Stalin felt free to resume and extend the anti-Jewish attitudes which were first discernible during the interlude of friendship with Hitler. Before and during the war this was tacit and on a small scale, and consisted principally in limiting or barring Jewish access to positions of trust and power. Many Jews still remained in the upper reaches of the communist hierarchy, but fewer and fewer were permitted to set foot on the lower rungs of the ladder.

    In January 1949 Stalin inaugurated the first of what was to be a long series of anti-Jewish campaigns. In all of these Stalin and his successors were careful—at least at the higher levels—not to identify the adversary simply as the Jews, or even as the Jewish ethnic nationality (natsional'nost'). They preferred to use transparent synonyms, and, in case anyone failed to get the point, took care to emphasize in various ways the Jewish origins of the persons under attack. The traditional Russian practice of citing people by name and patronymic was useful in this regard. For those who had changed their names or who—as was common among senior communists—made use of a pseudonym, the old and identifiably Jewish name was usually added in brackets—that is, where the name was cited in a negative context. Thus if G. A. Fulanov received some honor or decoration, he was the good Russian G. A. Fulanov. If, on the other hand, he was accused of some crime, he became Grigori Aaronovich Fulanov (formerly Finkelstein). A famous example was that old enemy of Stalin, Leon Trotsky, now cited as "Lev Davidovich Trotsky (formerly Bronstein)."

    The first postwar attack on the Jews began with the campaign against "cosmopolitanism" in the Soviet press. Launched in Pravda in January 1949, the campaign against cosmopolitanism was at first concerned with theatrical and other artistic matters. The word was used as a term of abuse for those writers, artists, and critics who showed undue awareness of Western writing, art, and criticism. Its meaning was soon changed, widening to include political and ideological activities and offenses, and at the same time narrowed, to become a virtual synonym for Jews.

    The "rootless cosmopolitan," as he was usually called, was contrasted with the true patriot or even with the "indigenous population." He was "an alien without a motherland" and "incapable of understanding true Russian patriotism." That such charges accorded ill with communist internationalism did not trouble the increasingly chauvinistic leaders of the Russian state. The attack on Jewish culture had begun as far back as 1938, and by 1940 all Yiddish schools had been closed, as had the Yiddish sections in the Belorussian and Ukrainian academies of sciences. All teaching and research in Jewish subjects was brought to an end. At the same time Jews were progressively excluded from any branch of governmental or party apparatus concerned with defense and foreign affairs. In January 1948 Shlomo Mikhoels, the director of the Yiddish language state theater and chairman of the wartime Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was killed in a traffic accident later revealed to have been officially arranged. Before long such subterfuges were no longer thought to be necessary, and in August 1952 more than twenty prominent Jewish cultural figures were executed as "spies and bourgeois nationalists."

    From Russia the campaign against cosmopolitanism was extended to the Soviet-dominated states in Eastern Europe. In November 1952 a purge and show trial in Czechoslovakia ended with the confession and execution of Rudolf Slansky, a lifelong Stalinist and secretary-general of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. In the course of the trial, he and his fellow accused confessed that they had been Zionists, bourgeois Jewish nationalists, traitors, and spies throughout their careers.

    This was followed by the "Doctors' Plot" in January 1953, when a group of doctors, most of them Jews, was accused of plotting to murder Stalin and other Soviet leaders in the interests of American intelligence and "the international Jewish bourgeoisie." The power behind both the Doctors' Plot and the Slansky plot, according to the accusers, was the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a well-known charitable organization concerned with social relief and rehabilitation. The Soviet, Soviet-controlled, and Soviet-influenced media gave immense publicity to these two events, and found occasion to stress their Jewish character. Of the fourteen accused in the Czechoslovak trial, eleven were Jews; of the nine doctors, seven were Jews. While both plots were said to have been organized by American intelligence, the organizing agency was described as Jewish, and the ideological impetus as "Zionism and Jewish bourgeois nationalism."

    The charges against the Slansky group and the doctors were duly echoed by communist and fellow traveling writers in the West, in an obedient chorus of denunciation. The organizers where possible made a special point of mobilizing Jewish communists for this work.

    Various reasons have been adduced for Stalin's drive against the Jews in his last years. One was disappointment with the return on his support for the Jewish state at the moment of its creation. Another, perhaps more important, was concern at the electrifying impact of the emergence and early victories of Israel on Soviet Jews. The Jews, even more browbeaten and dispirited than the rest of Stalin's subjects, responded to the birth and successes of Israel with messianic joy; in particular, the arrival of the first Israeli ambassador to Moscow was greeted by crowds of Jews with unrestrained enthusiasm. To the Soviet authorities, who tolerate no links between any section of Soviet population and any authority beyond Soviet control, this was a danger signal.

    Another motive was certainly the usefulness of anti-Semitism in the troubled Soviet domains in Europe. In these countries, anti-Semitism had long been a powerful factor in social, economic, and public life. In Eastern Europe, unlike Western Europe, the post-Hitler era did not bring a decline in anti-Semitism through compassion for the victims, but rather an increase, directed principally against those survivors who attempted to come home. What made matters far worse, was that so many of these survivors had come in the wake of the Soviet armies, and some played a prominent role in the first governments set up under Soviet auspices. At some stage Stalin seems to have decided that it was better to have anti-Semitism working for Soviet power than against it. Thereupon, Soviet propaganda in Eastern Europe made great efforts to identify its enemies as Jews and thus harness the widespread and deeply felt feelings of hostility to Soviet advantage.

    Finally, in the system of capricious and arbitrary autocratic rule established by Stalin, the personal feelings and motivations of the dictator cannot be discounted. Among many signs of growing paranoia in Stalin's last years, he was greatly concerned with imagined dangers from world Jewry. Such themes would have been familiar to him from the czarist empire in which he was born and received his education.

    The death of Stalin in March 1953 brought a temporary respite, if only from the more extreme forms of anti-Jewish activity. The doctors were released, and the whole case against them ascribed to a "machination." Rudolf Slansky and his fellow accused had already been executed and could no longer benefit from this change of policy. They were, however, accorded the communist form of recompense in an afterlife by being "rehabilitated." Khrushchev's famous secret speech in February 1956, denouncing the evils of the Stalin era, raised new hopes among the Jews as among other elements in the Soviet population.

    For the Jews at least these hopes were of brief duration. Khrushchev soon showed that while he did not share Stalin's paranoiac fantasies, his view of the Jewish role in the Soviet realms was not vastly different from that of his predecessor. His off-the-cuff remark, during a visit to Poland, that "there are too many Abramoviches around here" was heard and understood by both the Abramoviches and their gentile neighbors. By this time few but hard-core communist Jews had remained in Poland; most of the others had left. Now even the communists realized that their time had come, and as unobtrusively as possible took their departure. The communist rulers of Poland undertook a very thorough and far-reaching campaign against "Zionism and bourgeois Jewish nationalism," from which they hoped to gain a double advantage, by ingratiating themselves at once with their Russian masters and their Polish subjects. Khrushchev, outstanding among Soviet leaders for his frankness, explained his own views on Jewish matters to a group of French socialists who interviewed him in May 1956:

If now the Jews wanted to occupy the top jobs in our republics, they would obviously be looked upon unfavorably by the indigenous peoples. The latter would ill receive these claims, especially at a time when they consider themselves no less intelligent and no less able than the Jews. Or, for instance, in the Ukraine if a Jew is appointed to an important job and he surrounds himself with Jewish fellow workers, it is understandable that there may be hostility towards the Jews.

    In the early sixties the Soviet authorities launched a new campaign against the Jews, this time on two fronts, the religious and the economic. The attack on Judaism was part of a general campaign against religion, which for some reason the Soviet authorities again decided to regard as a threat. But the polemics against the Jewish religion were markedly different from those directed against the other two large religious groups in the Soviet Union, Christianity and Islam. The diatribes against Judaism differ not only in their violence and crudity of language but also in the projection of present problems into past events, for example in the treatment of the biblical Joshua as a Zionist expropriator and King David as an aggressive expansionist as well as a philanderer, and also in the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes such as conspiracy, greed, and the desire to dominate. The selectivity of Soviet anti-religious propaganda is graphically illustrated in a cartoon in the Bakinskii rabochii of June 4, 1985, published in the predominantly Muslim republic of Azerbaijan. A book, marked with a shield of David, drips liquid into two bottles labelled poison and venom. Two villainous-looking characters are in the foreground, one explaining to the other: "These poisons act first of all on the brain." Both are pointing at the book with the Jewish emblem. Other books, in the background, bear a cross and a seated Buddha. There is no crescent.

    Far more serious, for its victims, was the drive against what the authorities called "economic crimes." Embezzlement, theft, bribery, currency speculation, and corruption in general have long plagued the Soviet Union. From time to time the Soviet authorities launch campaigns against such crimes, mobilizing the whole apparatus of state, party, press, and security forces for the purpose. A major campaign of this kind was conducted between 1961 and 1964, in which Jews were singled out as the main victims. While tens of thousands of men and women were accused and punished, media attention was focused on those who were Jewish, with appropriate use of anti-Semitic stereotypes both in the description and in the accompanying cartoons. Thus, of eighty-four persons sentenced to death for economic crimes in 1962, forty-five were Jews, i.e., 54 percent. In the Ukrainian Republic the proportion was seventeen out of twenty-one, or 81 percent.

    It was in connection with these campaigns that Trofim K. Kichko published his famous book Judaism without Embellishment, attacking the Jewish religion and those who professed it throughout the ages. This was so crudely anti-Semitic in content, language, and illustrations that even communist parties in the free world joined in its condemnation. The ideological commission of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union responded by condemning and withdrawing the book and dismissing Kichko from the party. A few years later he was rehabilitated. In January 1968 he was granted the certificate of honor of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukraine, and published a new book, Judaism and Zionism, which appeared in Kiev in the same year. In Kichko's perception of history, the Jewish religion teaches "thievery, betrayal, and perfidy" and a "poisonous hatred for all other peoples." The true objective of the Jewish religion, in his judgment, is the fulfillment of God's promise that "the whole world belongs to the Jews." The practical aim of Zionism is to create a "world Jewish power" in Palestine for this purpose.

    Kichko's second book, which was given mass circulation, was part of a new wave of anti-Zionist propaganda, launched in July 1967, in the wake of the Six Day War, which affected all the countries in the Soviet bloc. In Poland it led to the dismissal of even communist Jews (few others remained) from their jobs, and the more or less forced departure of almost all of the surviving Jewish remnant.

    It was not only in the Soviet Union that the dramatic events of June 1967 brought a radical change of attitudes. In the past even well-wishers had been accustomed to see the Jews primarily as victims, usually helpless, and as candidates for succor, where this could be provided without endangering important national or commercial interests. By his swift and smashing victories over vastly greater and more powerful enemies, the Jew had defaulted on his stereotype as the frightened victim, to be destroyed, abandoned, pitied, or rescued at the discretion of those more fortunate than he, as circumstances might indicate. For many, this was a profoundly disturbing change. In Europe, in America, and in the Middle East, among the Jews and Arabs themselves, this sudden and total transformation of the relationship between the Jews and their adversaries started changes of attitude which have continued to the present day. To understand them it is necessary to look more closely at the peoples and ideologies involved, as well as the policies and perceptions that influenced the course of events.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Norton paperback edition9
ONE The Holocaust and After25
TWO Semites42
THREE Jews58
FOUR Anti-Semites81
FIVE Muslims and Jews117
SIX The Nazis and the Palestine Question140
SEVEN The War Against Zionism164
EIGHT The War Against the Jews192
NINE The New Anti-Semitism236
Afterword to the Norton paperback edition260

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