I am going to open this post by stating my opinion — an opinion supported by mountains of evidence and the insight of numerous geopolitical experts: the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a proxy conflict. For far too long, outside and imperial forces — including the Arab League, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, Iran, Qatar, and the United States — have stirred conflict for their own geopolitical purposes in a piece of land no larger than New Jersey.
I say this not to absolve Israel, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority of any responsibility in the continuing conflict, but rather, to get you to consider the manner in which we talk about Israel-Palestine, and whether this language that we use is actually helping or, rather, alienating Israelis and Palestinians more and more every day. So much of the language that the left uses today to “criticize” Israel comes straight out of the Soviet propaganda book, and the fact of the matter is that the Soviet Union had a vested geopolitical interest in perpetuating the conflict between Israelis and Arabs.
I believe strongly that there are only two possible paths ahead for Israelis and Palestinians: (1) diplomacy, or (2) the fighting continues until one group is totally obliterated. I know I prefer the former. So let’s think about it: is the language we are using useful? Is it accurate? Is it helpful?
I want to mention that Israelis do use language that is totally unhelpful and bigoted as well, and that Israel is certainly currently in a position of power over Palestinians, and with that comes extra responsibility. However, I am Jewish, and my expertise is antisemitism, and as such, this post is specifically about the anti-Israel language that I find unhelpful, chock full of propaganda, historically flawed, and rooted in antisemitism. “Whataboutism” in the comments won’t be tolerated, because that’s not the point of this post.
THE USSR & JEWS
While in the late 1940s the Soviet Union was sympathetic to Israel, given the socialist nature of labor Zionism, Stalin (who’d long expressed antisemitic views) quickly changed his tune in the 1950s. Because, following the Holocaust, antisemitism became heavily associated with Nazism, the Soviets began persecuting Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism instead.
Interestingly, however, the Soviets were never covert about the fact that their “anti-Zionism” was actually just antisemitism. In the 1960s, Soviet propaganda (such as newspapers) made blatantly antisemitic claims, including: “The character of the Jewish religion serves the political aims of the Zionists,” “Zionism is inextricable from Judaism, rooted in the idea of the exclusiveness of the Jewish People,” comparisons of Judaism to the Italian mafia, and claims that Israel was merely a means to an end of Jewish imperialism and world domination.
In the early 1950s, Stalin began to put forth a plan for the ethnic cleansing (and possible genocide) of the Jewish People. This plan is known as the Doctors’ Plot (see my posts THE DOCTORS’ PLOT and THE JEWISH AUTONOMOUS OBLAST). Thankfully, because of Stalin’s sudden death, the plan never came to fruition. Upon Khrushchev’s denouncing of most of Stalin’s policies, he notably did not denounce his mistreatment of Jews. In the following decades, the Soviets continued to heavily repress their Jewish population, including spiritual and cultural repression (studying Hebrew, for example, could get you arrested). See my post REFUSENIKS for more.
THE USSR & ISRAEL
The Soviet Union was initially supportive of Israeli statehood, voting in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947, given the socialist nature of early political Zionism. In fact, not only was the Soviet Union the first country to legally recognise Israel, but it also even facilitated the supply of arms to Israel during the 1947-1949 Israeli-Arab War, while the Arab armies were aided by the British. Though the Soviet Union never officially changed its “anti-Zionist” stance, it momentarily stopped publishing anti-Zionist propaganda in the late 1940s. At first, the Soviets believed Israel would slow down British influence and spread socialism in Southwest Asia.
The Soviets quickly realised, however, that geopolitically, supporting Israel left them at a disadvantage (e.g. oil). By the early 1950s, as Israel grew closer to Great Britain and France, the Soviets switched alliances, disseminating massive antisemitic propaganda campaigns in Southwest Asia and Africa to rally the support of Arab and/or African nations, as well as inciting proxy conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
It was in these very propaganda campaigns that the Soviets began framing Zionism as a tool and/or extension of American imperialism (ironically, it wasn’t until after the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 that Israel and the United States established a close geopolitical relationship; previously, not only did both countries distrust each other, but the Americans only provided Israel with loans, rather than any sort of aid*).
*arguably, today’s American aid to Israel isn’t quite aid either, as most of it is legally obligated to be funnelled back into the United States
“ZIONISM IS RACISM”
We hear this a lot nowadays: Zionism is equivalent to racism or even Nazism. But this slogan originated from none other than a Soviet Union geopolitical propaganda campaign.
In 1969, the United Nations passed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Both the United States and Brazil wanted to add a clause including antisemitism. The Soviet Union, which had been heavily oppressing its Jewish population since the 1950s, worried that such a clause would be used to rebuke them for persecuting Soviet Jews. As such, they included a counter proposal, which was a clause that equated Zionism to Nazism. That way, they could say they were persecuting Zionists, not Jews. While neither clause passed (yes, that’s correct: the UN refused to condemn antisemitism), this laid the groundwork for the Soviets to push a “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1975 (I recommend you read my post THE BLATANT ANTISEMITISM BEHIND UN RESOLUTION 3379). In their campaign, the Soviets misconstrued the Jewish concept of the “Chosen People” to mean that Zionists considered themselves a superior race and drew false comparisons to fascist ideologies.
On November 10, 1975, the United Nations passed Resolution 3379, stating that Zionism is a form of racism. The resolution never defined Zionism, nor did it explain, how and why, exactly, Zionism is a form of racism (shouldn’t a resolution on something start by defining what that something is?). In fact, the delegate for Liberia stated that, while reading the resolution, he “anxiously waited” to see (1) a definition for Zionism, and (2) an explanation as to how Zionism is racism. Since he found no such thing, he voted against the resolution.
USE OF THE TERM “APARTHEID”
Before I continue: the West Bank is divided into 3 areas: the Palestinian Authority governs area A, area B is under joint Israel-PA control, and area C is under Israeli control. These are the conditions that were agreed upon by the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to begin a pathway toward Palestinian statehood. Three decades later, the Accords were a failure and the situation seems bleaker than ever. Palestinians in the West Bank live under Israeli military occupation. This slide specifically, though, is about the first use of the term “apartheid” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I am not disputing the unequal conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank, deflecting from Israeli responsibility, or discussing the worsening/improving of different conditions before and after Oslo, as that warrants a whole other post (that I’m not going to make, because it’s not my lane).
To pass Resolution 3379, the Soviet Union needed to win the majority of votes. While the support of the Arab League (and its 20+ countries) would be a given, the Soviets knew they needed the support of African nations as well.
All of this, of course, took place during the height of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. As such, to gain the support of African countries, the USSR disseminated a propaganda campaign in Africa equating Zionism to South African apartheid.
Notably, the characterisation of Israel as an “apartheid state” took long before Israel constructed the so-called “apartheid wall” (or security wall/fence) running along the West Bank. The “wall,” which is 95% fence, was built many decades later, during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). Both Israeli *and* Palestinian sources confirm the wall/fence played a crucial role in the slowing down of Palestinian suicide bombings. That said, the wall (and checkpoints) have drastically worsened the quality of living of Palestinians in the West Bank. Palestinian Arabs living within the Green Line legally have full equal rights and citizenship (though discrimination certainly exists).
Before I proceed, I want to make something clear: the Soviet Union was an empire that destroyed a plethora of Indigenous peoples. In fact, the Russian treatment of Indigenous Siberians is often compared to the American treatment of Natives. That the Soviet Union presented itself as a moral warrior for Indigenous self-determination of any kind is laughable.
While Jews had self-identified as “Indigenous” in the United Nations since the 1940s, the characterisation of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as a “coloniser vs Indigenous” narrative is relatively recent, dating back to the 1990s.
In the 1970s, anti-colonial movements spread throughout Africa, where the last nations still plagued by European colonialism fought for independence. The Soviet Union, interested in spreading its sphere of influence, as well as looking to secure the support of Africa in the United Nations, disseminated propaganda equating the plight of Palestinians to the plight of Indigenous Africans seeking sovereignty. For example, the Soviet Union ensured that Palestine was included in UN Resolution 3246, which was a resolution condemning Portuguese colonialism in Africa (needless to say, Palestine was/is neither a Portuguese colony or in Africa).
Both early Palestinian nationalists in the interwar period between the two World Wars and the Palestine Liberation Organization in its 1968 Charter proclaimed that Palestine was an “Arab” nation. This is important to mention because Palestine was Arabized through imperial conquest, so the settler colonial-Indigenous framework depicting Jews as settlers is ahistorical on a number of levels. For more, I recommend my post JEWS & INDIGENEITY: A CONVERSATION WITH NATIVE JEWS and my INDIGENEITY 1 & 2 highlights. I also recommend the slide on decolonization in my post THE INTERSECTION OF LATINIDAD & JEWISHNESS: MY EXPERIENCE.
“ZIONISTS ARE NAZIS”
Holocaust inversion is the act of depicting Jews, Zionists, and/or Jewish Israelis as Nazis. Nazis, however, persecuted all Jews, Zionist or not, and as such, Jews inherently can’t be Nazis. Holocaust inversion is considered a form of Holocaust revisionism, which in turn is considered a form of Holocaust denial.
The Soviet Union had begun distorting the history and the facts of the Holocaust before the war was even won. The Soviet propaganda machine never acknowledged the specifically antisemitic and anti-Romani nature of the Holocaust, and instead, depicted all Soviets (as well as communists) as the main victims of the Nazis. This is important to note because, by stripping Jews of the history of our oppression, the Soviets could then easily characterize Jews as Nazis.
As stated in the fifth slide, the Soviets had a vested interest in framing Zionism as equivalent to Nazism. If Zionists were indeed “Nazis,” then the Soviet Union couldn’t be condemned for persecuting “Zionists” (Jews) under its “anti-Zionist” (antisemitic) propaganda campaign and purge. Ironically, it had been the Palestinian leadership and surrounding Arab nations that had allied with the Nazis prior to, during, and after the Holocaust. For a more thorough breakdown on this, see my post NAZISM IN THE 1947-1949 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR.
In the 1970s alone, hundreds of books and articles equating Zionism to Nazism were published in the Soviet Union and were later translated into Arabic, as well as numerous other languages. In 1985, the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public published a propagandist brochure known as the “Criminal Alliance of Zionism and Nazism,” which claimed that there was irrefutable proof that the Zionists not only had collaborated with the Nazis, but were also responsible for the genocide of Jews, Slavs, and others in Europe. When Israel captured and tried Adolf Eichmann in the 1960s, the Soviets painted the Israel-West Germany relationship as “evidence” that the Zionists had colluded with the Nazis. Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda in the Arab world was so pervasive that it even influenced the dissertation of current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, titled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism.” According to Abbas, Israel captured Eichmann “to prevent the ‘sacred secrets’ of this [Zionist-Nazi] collaboration from becoming public.”
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union — itself a major enemy of the Nazis — began exporting Nazi propaganda films to the Arab world to further turn Arab public opinion against Israel.
The Soviets were notorious for publishing “anti-Zionist” cartoons eerily resembling the antisemitic Nazi caricatures during World War II. The only difference was that, instead of depicting Jews, the Soviets depicted “Zionists,” but the tropes were exactly the same: “Zionists” were characterized as animals (snakes, spiders, octopuses, other vermin) or subhuman, much as the Nazis had done. Additionally, “Zionists” were drawn with stereotypically Jewish features (e.g. large or hooked noses) and often wore a Star of David. “Zionists” were depicted as evil, greedy, money-hungry, manipulative, all powerful, and a threat to the general public. And, of course, these caricatures hardly remained within the borders of the Soviet Union. Instead, they were disseminated throughout the Arab world.
It’s important to note that, while antisemitism in the Arab world had been systemic for centuries, this particular, European brand of antisemitism, with its specifically European antisemitic tropes, was very much a European (and, in this case, Soviet) import.
Antisemitic cartoons are pervasive in Southwest Asia. In 2006-2008, for example, Iran hosted an International Holocaust Cartoon Competition. Qatari newspapers are notorious for publishing antisemitic cartoons that are nearly identical to the Nazi and Soviet antisemitic cartoons of the past.
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