By Jim Miles
(Zionism During the Holocaust: The Weaponization of Memory in the Service of State and Nation. Tony Greenstein. 2022.)
The current Israeli government promotes the idea that it speaks for the Jewish people of the world. It equates any criticism of Israel and any criticism of Zionism as being antisemitic the two being fully conflated in the eyes of ardent nationalist Jews.
Tony Greenstein’s new book “Zionism During the Holocaust” examines a critical period in the development of the Israeli national narrative and exposes the history behind the development of Zionism and specifically the role Zionism played in the Holocaust in World War II.
To be clear, Greenstein in no way denies the Holocaust and provides much information detailing how many Jews were sent to the various concentration/extermination camps from the areas occupied or allied to Wehrmacht Germany. The book is highly detailed, well referenced, and written in what I call encyclopedic style: it is not an anecdotal history but is packed full of information taken from numerous sources – most of them Jewish – detailing the names, dates, and numbers so critical to the Holocaust history.
It is bound to bring up accusations of antisemitism against the author, already considerably well experienced with those accusations, but it also highlights one of the main points summarized in the book: Israel needs to motivate antisemitism globally in order to distract as much of the world as possible from its military violence and validate the settler colonialism of Palestine and the labeling of Arabs as the evil ‘other’.
While there is a huge amount of information presented in the book, it can be summarized fairly succinctly.
The main idea, as per the book’s title, is an examination of Zionism during the Holocaust. At a time when Zionism was still not accepted by the majority of Jews, the numerous quotations cited from the beginning of Zionism under the leadership of Theodor Herzl up to those of David Ben Gurion, among others, during the various pre-war Palestinian settlement projects and during the war itself lead to one idea. That underlying idea is that the nation, the proposed state of Israel, took precedence over the life of any individual Jewish person.
How that reads in this work is within the role of the Judenrate and how it managed the various ghettos and transportation orders delivered to them by the Germans. The Jewish leaders of the ghettos and other German-occupied/allied areas were more concerned about trying to save the lives of valuable Jews – those that were established, wealthy, and pro-Zionist – in part by making deals with the Germans that traded the lives of the top echelons of Jews for the lives of the masses to be exterminated.
That is a harsh criticism, sure to be denied by Israel, but it is an idea supported in other works examining the role of Zionism during the Holocaust. After the war, the Holocaust survivors were criticized for their passive attitude which led them to the death camps. Not until after the Eichman trial did Israel start using the Holocaust in a revised format – not as something supported by the extreme nationalism of the Zionists, but as the signal to validate why Israel must exist today.
Other issues are covered as well as the actual processes of extermination. Zionism in its origins was not accepted by the vast majority of Jews, but the idea of a return to Jerusalem was strongly advocated by various Christian churches. The Zionists argued that emigres should only be allowed to go to Palestine from Germany.
Britain, the Commonwealth, and the US had quotas against Jewish immigration and supported indirectly the Zionist wish to have all immigrants settle in Palestine. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians today is ignored and the Holocaust is used to “reinforce Zionism’s tribal racism” as per Gideon Levy’s comment “I have yet to hear a single teenager come back from Auschwitz and say that we mustn’t abuse others the way we were abused….Gaza is permitted because of Auschwitz.”
“Zionism During the Holocaust” is a solidly referenced book. It is certainly to bring up cries about antisemitism partly to deny the Holocaust references and partly to reinforce the required antisemitism needed by Israel for self validation. However, along with that attention to the subject, more and more people will be able to find a strong resource for information on the critical role of the Holocaust within the Israeli narrative.