Saturday, April 30, 2016

Was Hitler a Zionist?

Of all the questions you expect to have to deal with in the course of a lifetime, the question about whether Hitler was a Zionist is not one. Hitler and his cronies, as we all know, were responsible for the deaths of six million Jews, while countless others were forcibly deported or forced to flee. Surely Hitler is the very opposite of a Zionist, committed as he was to the complete destruction of “the Jews”. Why, then, am I wasting time even addressing the question?

Because of British politics, that’s why. Honestly, the more I hear about what’s going on there, the more convinced I am that I left just in time.

Those of you who have been keeping an eye on British politics, or are living in Britain at the moment, will know the story I’m talking about. For the benefit of everyone else, here’s a brief recap.

For some time now, accusations have been growing that many members of the left-of-centre Labour Party, currently in opposition, have been making antisemitic statements, and that the party leadership has failed to do anything about it. Most of the alleged antisemitic statements have been coming from the left wing of the party, and this has caused a rift with the party’s own right wing.

The Labour left has responded to these allegations by pointing out that criticism of the state of Israel is not the same as antisemitism, and that playing the antisemitism card is just a way of silencing debate.

So this argument rages on for a bit, which is an unedifying spectacle and very unhelpful to the Labour Party as a whole, as it is distracting it from the very important job of opposing the Conservative government. A government which seems to be in the process of dismantling the UK and handing it over to Russian oligarchs, so now is really not the time to be squabbling about contentious political opinions about the Middle East.

During this row, it emerged that a few years ago, Labour Member of Parliament Naseem “Naz” Shah had shared on Facebook a post suggesting that the solution to the conflict in the Middle East was to deport Israeli Jews and relocate them to the US, something which to my mind goes beyond criticizing the policies of the government of Israel. After her rather unconvincing argument that she didn’t endorse the views in the post (which raises the question of why she shared it), she was suspended by a Labour Party increasingly under pressure to show they won’t tolerate antisemitism in their ranks.

There’s a valid debate to be had over what actually constitutes antisemitism; and it’s not easy, because there are very few nations in the world that so neatly correspond to adherence to a particular religion. It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but — and I offer this as a piece of advice to anyone intent on stepping into this particular minefield — if your statement includes the phrase “the Jews”, there’s a high chance it’s antisemitic.

All of this was bad enough, before veteran Labour politician and former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone waded into the debate with all the sensitivity of Godzilla and stated in a radio interview that:

...when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism — this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

At the end of a madcap day that saw him hounded by the press, an irate colleague and a dog, Livingstone was also suspended from the party. But he continues to insist that everything he said was historically true citing Lenni Brenner’s book Zionism in the Age of Dictators in his defence.

So, what’s this all about? Hitler a Zionist?

On the 25th August 1933, Germany, now under Nazi rule, signed the Ha’avara Agreement with Zionist Jews, to facilitate the resettlement of Jews to Palestine. So, Brenner and Livingstone were right?

Not without an ulterior motive.

Not so fast. We’re talking about Germany under Hitler. Hitler also put his signature to a document promising Britain that he wasn’t going to start a war, later commenting that he simply thought he’d give the British Prime Minister his autograph. Anyone who thinks Hitler wanted at that point in history to be nice to “the Jews” clearly hasn’t heard of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography and propaganda tract written well before he came to power, in which he said:

...the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.


The black-haired Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood and removing her from the bosom of her own people. The Jew uses every possible means to undermine the racial foundations of a subjugated people.

and, most famously:

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

That was written years before 1933. Let there be no mistake: Hitler had no sympathy with the Zionist cause, or with the Jewish people. His regime had already started with its program of oppressing German Jews, who wanted out not because they had ideas about booting Muslims out of Palestine, but because the atmosphere in Germany was becoming more hostile.

This is the problem, incidentally, with ascribing certain views to Hitler. Put simply, Hitler is not a man whose word you can trust. This same “Zionist” Hitler is quoted as saying, “The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France,” although that quote is rather doubtful. But whatever he says or even does, you have to bear in mind the possibility that there is an ulterior motive at work.

So what could Hitler possibily have gained from the Ha’avara Agreement?

Well, first of all, and most importantly, he wanted Jews to leave Germany. That was basically it: he didn’t particularly care where they went or what happened to them, just so long as they weren’t in Germany any more. Hitler “supported” Zionism not because he agreed with its aims, but rather in the hope that it would solve one of his problems. The great advantage would be that by concentrating all the Jews in one small part of Palestine, it would be easier to control them and prevent them from becoming a threat.

The other problem he had was the Anti-Nazi boycott, in which several countries boycotted German goods in response to the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor, and Germans in response boycotted Jewish businesses. And the Ha’avara Agreement provided a way around that.

It worked like this: Jews who wanted to emigrate to Palestine would temporarily give up all their possessions, and pay £1000 (a lot of money in those days) to the Ha’avara Company. This money would then be used to buy German goods, which the emigrants would take with them to the Yishuv community in Palestine and then, basically, sell.

There’s a much more detailed discussion of the agreement, its aims and its effects, in this PDF document; but essentially, Hitler “supported Zionism” only insofar as it was a handy way to further his obsession with ridding Germany of “the Jewish problem” once and for all.

On a related subject, Livingstone also claimed that in 1935, the Nazi government passed a law banning the flying of any flag except the swastika and the Zionist flag. In fact, if you read German, the text of the Imperial Flag Act of 1935 is online and says nothing about the Zionist flag. It also says nothing about banning anything: it simply states that the “imperial colours” are black, white and red, and that the swastika was to be the official imperial, national and trade flag.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The least surprising revelation of all

The thing that most amuses me about the Panama scandal is that so many people act as if they’re surprised by it. For as long as I can remember, politicians and celebrities and businessmen have been avoiding/dodging/evading tax. It’s sort of the wallpaper of public life: hideous, and it really needs to go, but it’s quite simply there.

So some anonymous whistleblower sends a vast pile of data to a newspaper, and the collective response is: “My goodness me, all those politicians who’ve been enriching themselves at our expense — they’ve been enriching themselves at our expense!” This, of course, is swiftly followed by, “Throw them out!”

At least in some countries. Yesterday, one of my students wanted to know why the British were making such a huge fuss about it. Germans aren’t too bothered, she said. Probably; but then the German economy is doing reasonably well, while in Britain, a group of rich people in government have been telling the populace for years now that they need to tighten their belts.

So, yes: “David Cameron must go!” chant the protestors, because he has personally benefitted from his father’s tax-avoiding activities, although he may not actually have broken the law. But then, this is a moral, rather than a legal, issue. But then again, I don’t think these are people who originally supported David Cameron, and have now had an unwelcome epiphany: they’re people who were violently opposed to the Conservative government anyhow, and these latest not-particularly-surprising revelations are a good reason to voice their opinions.

Also, I wonder if they have thought through their demands. According to some of the placards they were waving, they seem to think that Cameron resigning is the same as the Conservative Party being forced out of Parliament. If so, they’re in for a shock: it would just mean a new, and probably considerably less popular, Conservative Prime Minister. If we’re very unlucky, it could be George Osborne, a man who has managed to hold on to his job of Chancellor of the Exchequer — Britain’s finance minister, basically — despite the fact that just about everything he does or says is deeply unpopular not only with the general population, but with the whole of his own party.

Another interesting thing is that people seem to think this is just a Conservative Party Thing. Well, so far, apart from David Cameron (indirectly), a grand total of three former British MPs are caught up in this particular scandal, and they are all Conservatives. But of course, as massive as this leak is, it only involves one company operating in one tax haven, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the tip of the iceberg. And just for the record, it’s not as if people who describe themselves as socialists are immune from this kind of behaviour.

I am, though, quite convinced that the current leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has the moral high ground on this one. Jeremy Corbyn, for those who don’t know, is a politician way out on the left wing of the Labour Party who, after 30 years on the backbenches quietly rebelling, was unexpectedly and dramatically voted leader of the party, and therefore also Leader of the Opposition.

Unfortunately, Corbyn hasn’t been doing his job very well. His job, incidentally, is to hold the government to account and pick holes in government policy. He’s quite useless at that: for all that his supporters keep telling me that he “destroys the government” every week at Prime Minister’s Questions, a look through the Hansard, the official record of parliamentary business, reveals that he just politely asks question after question, and never really challenges the answers he gets.

Of course, this scandal has actually succeeded in making Cameron’s approval rating drop below that of Corbyn, so it turns out that the opposition didn’t really need to do much opposing. And really, absolutely nobody believes Jeremy Corbyn has fifty million hidden away in a trust fund in the Cayman Islands. I mean, just look at the man. Say what you like, his probity is not in question.

So, amid all the fashionable bash-the-rich grassroots politics that are going on at the moment, do I think Corbyn would make a better Prime Minister than Cameron?

I think that question’s moot. I don’t think either of them are good Prime Minister material. Corbyn, because as a former rebel he won’t be able to unite the party behind him, and also because his policies seem to have just woken up from a forty-year coma. And Cameron, not for the reasons it’s currently fashionable to bash him for — he’s rich, he once almost certainly didn’t put part of his anatomy anywhere near a dead pig’s snout but it’s too good a story to risk fact-checking, and his late father did some questionable financial jiggery-pokery to make the family richer than it had a right to be — but because he has so far been an appalling Prime Minister, and has far too much faith in his even more appalling Chancellor.

Fifteen years after I left the UK I lost my right to vote there, which is a great relief because it means that whatever happens from now on, it’s not my fault. It also means I don’t have to choose between the Disaster Party, the Dithering Party, the Non-Existent Party, the Screaming Xenophobe Party, and Russell bloody Brand.