A Liberal Jewish Writer Takes Down the Anti-Zionist Left
NYU journalism professor Susie Linfield’s provocative book, The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (Yale University Press, 2019), features eight intellectuals and their views on Zionism — all but one of them Jewish.
First is political philosopher Hannah Arendt. After 1933, she became a Zionist activist, while her mentor and former lover Martin Heidegger became a Hitler apologist. Released by the SS, she fled to Paris, ultimately reaching the US in 1940.
Arendt’s first acclaimed book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950), was followed by Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963). It alleged Jewish passivity (even complicity) in the Holocaust, and speculated about “the banality of evil” among Nazis. Linfield dissects virtually every word of Arendt’s as a snide disparagement of Israel’s founding generation.
It would take Freud to explain Arendt’s contradictions: urging the creation of “a Jewish army” during World War II, but opposing the creation of Israel; prescience about Israel’s coming conflicts with the Arabs, yet evincing little empathy for Palestine-born Jews. Rejecting Israel as an obnoxious “new nation,” she still supported Israel in the 1967 war.
Linfield’s other dramatis personae:
- Hungarian-born Arthur Koestler, the enfant terrible of 20th century European Jewish intellectuals. In The Heart of Darkness (1940), he exposed totalitarianism, but waited to became an anti-communist. Then, in The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), he maliciously suggested that European Jews were really “impostor Semites.” Yet he lost relatives in the Holocaust. Linfield speculates that it was Koestler’s loathing of Diaspora Jews’ “eery odour of otherliness” [sic] that propelled his idiosyncratic self-hating Zionism.
- Maxime Rodinson was a French Jew who taught sociology in Beirut; his parents perished in Auschwitz. As a post-war French leftist, he contradictorily argued that Israel, allied with Western imperialists, oppressed Palestinians, yet somehow must continue to exist as a Jewish refuge.
- Isaac Deutscher, who originated the concept of “the non-Jewish Jew.” A Polish-born communist, Deutscher, in his great biography of Leon Trotsky, argues that Trotsky, despite his rejection of Zionism, envisaged a socialist future in which Jews would maintain a territorial identity. Outgrowing his love of post-1948 Israel, Deutscher died soon after the 1967 war.
- Albert Memmi was an anti-colonialist who had to flee liberated Tunisia for Paris. But he had too much integrity ever to abandon his Jewish heritage or Zionism, and continued to support the State of Israel.
- Fred Halliday, an Irishman of the New Left, was not a Jew. Too decent to forever apologize for Arab terrorism or become a virulent “anti-Zionist,” he died reviled by fellow leftists for his positions on Israel.
- Muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, a product of the pre-war Popular Front, celebrated the post-war Jewish state, believing that Jewish-Arab reconciliation was around the corner. But after the 1967 war, he rewrote his own pro-Israel writings to become an anti-Zionist pied piper of the New Left.
- Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist, speaks in many tongues — all hostile to Israel. He hates the Jewish state because he blames “the American Empire” for creating it. Chomsky was an apologist for Pol Pot’s and Milosevic’s genocides; he also made common cause with French Holocaust deniers. On Chomsky, I always recall Mary McCarthy’s famous phrase about Lillian Hellman: “every word is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
Linfield’s overarching thesis is that leftist Jews moved from pro- to anti-Zionism as they transitioned from anti-fascism to anti-imperialism. But does this explain why today Russia re-absorbs Crimea, and China eyes Taiwan, without a peep from the international left that hates Israel?
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).