Review by Glyn Secker
Skyscraper Publications £20.00
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Anyone unaware of the years of research spent in dusty archives could well be forgiven for thinking this book was written in the publisher’s fast food kitchen to cash in on the current antisemitism soufflé whipped up by the unalloyed supporters of Israel and their right wing counterparts in the Labour Party and beyond.
When setting out to pen a short pamphlet on Zionism, a topic with which he was familiar and on which he believed himself to be well informed, Thomas Suarez came across some unusual references; checking their derivation lead him to the UK’s national archives at Kew and to a library of primary sources from the hands of individuals, British officials, the British secret services, national journals and Zionist organisations themselves. Many years of diligent work transformed the pamphlet into this seminal work, whose publication date fortuitously coincides with the very period when Political Zionism, having transmuted itself from a political ideology into a liberation theology deeply embedded in the existential identity of the majority of the Jewish community, has attained its apogee in popular European and American culture.
Suarez traces this trajectory from its beginnings in the second half of the 19C. to the Suez crisis of 1956. From its inception Revisionist Zionism was conceived as a biblical enterprise: building the Third Temple, founded on the rights of Jews as a race, claiming a divine right for all Jews and in the process trumping Jewish orthodoxy. The weapon of choice to carve out their temple was that of terrorism.
For many familiar with the history of the creation of Israel the received knowledge is that, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and in the pursuit of a safe haven for Jews, attacks were targeted by the incipient Israeli army on the British garrison in Palestine, and that in the quest for a state a number of atrocities were committed by small bands of extremists, the Irgun and Lehi (Stern) gangs, epitomised by the infamous massacre of Deir Yassin.
Suarez research lead him to a very different narrative: these small bands of extremists were integral, structured components of the regular armed force, the Hagana of the Jewish Agency – no model of the Geneva Convention itself, with its elite corps, the Palmach, its assassination unit the Pum and its deployment of barrel bombs loaded with shrapnel. All five groups were engaged in the programme of intimidation and terror, where the end, Eretz Israel – an exclusively Jewish state stretching east from the Mediterranean to include Transjordan, and from Egypt to the Lebanese boarder – justified Revisionist Zionism’s means. Obstacles in its path were the British, the other key players in the UN Partition plan, and not least the awkward existence of the indigenous occupants of Palestine.
Violence to the Palestinians, modelled on the antisemitic pogroms in eastern Europe, is traced to commence from the first settlers prior to the First World War, developing through the inter-war period, and rising to a crescendo of public bombing and the poisoning of wells with typhoid and dysentary, to provoke a reaction and to create a premise for full scale military operations in the period leading up to 1948. It culminated in the massacres of the inhabitants of tens of villages and the raising of many hundreds more: planned by military intelligence gatherers posing as hiking tourists, Plan Dalet was devised and executed, to create the Nachba of 900,00 refugees. The records show that, contrary to common understanding, the wanton violence was not brought to an end by the declaration of the state of Israel but was maintained, and continues to this day.
A significant portion of the book simply enumerates the hundreds of attacks on the British presence in Palestine, which hit both military and civilian targets. Violence to the regional powers ranged from assassination plans and actual attempts on the life of Churchill, Eden and Ernest Bevan, sabotage of British forces during WWII (compromising their capacity); plans to explode bombs in London, and UK facilities in France, Austria and Italy (mostly but not all foiled); false flag operations (such as the Lavrone affair in Egypt & the Bagdad Trials in Iraq) to ‘create’ antisemitic movements to justify Zionist demands; the sinking of British ships (resulting in 276 deaths) carrying Jewish refugees, when, contrary to Zionist demands they were diverted away from Palestine; the training and the use of child operators; selective assassinations of leading Jewish critics (most of the assassinations carried out by the Irgun and Stern gangs were of anti-zionist Jewish individuals); sabotaging Jewish anit-zionist printing presses and the targeting of institutions such as the Hashoma Club which argued for a two state solution. The litany is extensive and shocking.
Another dimension to the Zionist’s agenda was that they did all in their power to direct Jewish refugees away from offers of asylum by western democracies and to exert pressurise to divert Jews to Palestine. To this effect they were instrumental in seeing that Roosevelt’s plan in 1938 to accept 400,000 from Nazis Germany came to nothing.
It is instructive that these early Zionists listed in order of priority the opposition which they saw as critical: first were the anti-zionists in the Jewish communities, second came the offers of asylum from the democracies, and third was antisemitism. They referred to Jewish anti-zionists as ‘kikes’ which is the ’N’ word for Jew.
In the UK the startling rise of Jeremy Corbyn to leadership of the Labour Party, a person who has been both a life long champion of Palestinian human rights and a socialist committed to the substantial redistribution of wealth back to the poor, created major tremors simultaneously in the conservative and the Jewish establishments. Desperate to mount a counter-attack they seized on antisemitism as their weapon: a tool which, as this book describes, was fashioned by the Political Zionists from their beginning and was well honed over the ensuing decades in their drive to control the destiny of the Jewish community.
There are many quotations in the book from UK, UN, US and other international observers of parallels between the Irgun and Stern gang’s organisation and methods and those of the Nazis – statements which today would surely lead to expulsion from the Labour Party. A footnote observes that the relevant ‘Polkes’ papers in the Israeli archives remain classified. Referencing from Suarez’s book at a Labour Party meeting would certainly incur the wrath any Jewish Labour Movement or Labour Friends of Israel member present. It must be the author’s diligence in meticulously referencing every description of the legion of ruthless objectives and acts owned by the political and military wings of Zionism which has safeguarded him from legal action by the ‘lawfare’ department of Israel’s hasbora machine. (The references occupy one quarter of the book).
Intelligence reports in the period prior to 1948 put the Irgun and Stern gangs’ numbers at 8500, the Palmach at 5000, the Hagana army at 90,000, and a total call up potential of a fully equipped army and airforce of 200,000. (A Goliath against an ill equipped and disorganised alliance of squabbling Davids). It was from their positions in the comparatively small terrorist groups that the future leaders of Israel were able to set the agenda of violence to build Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall – who, as the father of the Irgun, put his boots where his mouth was. As small cogs in the gears of the military machine, in an environment where the British were exhausted by war and desperate to withdraw, and where the rule of law was disintegrating, these terrorist groups were able to dictate and drive the strategy: a reign of terror across the Mandate, with its tentacles reaching into the heart of its European masters to create mayhem until their objective was conceded. Conceived in a state of terror, terror became the new state’s modus vivendi, and its current leaders continue this macabre dance, still fixated on pursuit of the Third Temple.
It is this context which make sense of the seemingly incongruous fact that the commanders of the Irgun and Stern gangs, Ben Gurion, Menachim Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, became the first leaders of the new Israeli state. It also provides the historical context for the fact that Israel to this day has not defined its eastern boarder, and provides an explanation as to why successive peace talks, dating back to 1949 have produced no resolution.
For post 1948 second and third generation Jews growing up with a partial, bowdlerised narrative of Zionism, reading this book will either be a traumatic experience or it will be another volume to be consigned to the antisemitic waste bin. It is now well recognised that post Holocaust second generation Jews enveloped themselves and their children in a silence about their past. Suarez’s account of Zionist terror, which predated the Holocaust and which emanated from the pogroms of the 18C. and 19C., has exposed a second dimension of silence, in which the consolidation of Revisionist and Political Zionism has deployed the image of Humanitarian Zionism to cloak its past. For very many Jews Zionism is genuinely core to their identity, the very sense of their self, the solution to millennia of persecution. Suarez reveals it to have been yet another false flag on a grandiose and grotesque scale.
However, some third and fourth generation Jews, having looked beneath the cloak, have made the difficult and uncomfortable journey to disavowing Political-revisionist Zionism and are reasserting the international and Jewish values of human rights. It was wholly predictable that this would provoke a knee jerk response from the Political Zionists who have reached for their historical weapon of antisemitism, whilst those of us in a stubborn minority wave a contrary flag, that anti-zionism is not antisemitism, and seek to reclaim the genuine Jewish socialist tradition forged by the BUND in the period of revolutionary working class organisation at the start of the 20C. There is a Jewish tradition that even the smallest of minority voices shall be recorded, because one day they may prove to be the ones which should have been heeded.
This review first appeared in a shorter version in Labour Briefing