Volume 1, Issue 2 (April 2007 / Iyar 5767)
Article 3/9


British Anti-Zionism Then and Now

By Rory Miller


Abstract: Though separated by over half a century and many differences in the cultural, political and technological environments in which they have operated, a close examination of the facts makes it apparent that today's British anti-Zionists and today's British anti-Zionist bodies share many characteristics with their predecessors who were active in opposing Zionist aspirations in the years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This article draws out these similarities, in particular the common arguments that both current and past British anti-Zionists have used to demonize and de-legitimize Zionism. It then examines how this little noted phenomenon throws light on the motives and objectives of today's anti-Zionist activists.


President Harry Truman, an avid student of history, once noted that "the only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know." I have been reminded of Truman's observation a lot in recent years while following the resurgence of anti-Zionism in Britain.

For despite the relentless protestations of Israel's most vocal and devoted enemies that their efforts are the sincere response of well-meaning individuals to a set of concrete and actual Israeli wrongs carried out since the breakdown of the Oslo peace process in late 2000 (the building of the "apartheid" Wall, the "massacre" at Jenin etc.), the truth is that the motivations of many of the most active anti-Zionists now are the same as those of anti-Zionists prior to the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948. To put it bluntly--anti-Zionists of the pre-1948 vintage worked to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state by demonizing the Zionist movement, whereas the current crop of anti-Zionists work to destroy the Jewish state, by demonizing Israeli policies and actions.

Of course the specific nature and identity of today's anti-Zionists, not to mention the intellectual and political resources on which they draw, differ from their predecessors of over half a century ago. Though, interestingly, both present and past anti-Zionist movements can claim a number of prominent Churchmen in their ranks, today's anti-Zionist movement is led by a peculiar alliance of Leftists, Islamists, anti-Globalists, and self-proclaimed "peace" activists. Whereas, the most influential, and active, anti-Zionists in Britain prior to 1948 were former colonial officers, missionaries, members of parliament, and scholars--in other words members of the British establishment.

But despite the fact that the schooling, outlook and politics of these two groups could hardly be more different, and the fact that the strategic and technological environment in which they operate has changed substantially, both present and past anti-Zionists have been linked together in a complex web of overlapping and co-operating organizations--some very public, some discreet, but all prepared (in the words of Sir Ronald Storrs, a leading anti-Zionist of the 1930s and 1940s), to "devote time, brains and cash" to the Arab cause in Palestine.


British Anti-Zionists Now

The most active, and significant, anti-Zionist body in Britain today is the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). It can claim almost 40 regional branches in the UK alone and has active affiliates in a number of countries. According to its website, it is the "most active campaigning organization in the UK on the issue of Palestine. We aim to build an effective mass campaign, organizing protests, political lobbying and raising public awareness".

But in truth, the PSC is more preoccupied with isolating and demonizing Israel than it is in promoting Palestinian rights. It is at the forefront of the wide-ranging attempt to de-legitimize Israel by working for an economic, academic and cultural boycott of the country. It sponsors the Boycott Israeli Goods (BIG) campaign, which targets agricultural and hi-tech exports to the UK. It has lent its moral and public support to various other campaigns ranging from the efforts of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP) to get an economic boycott of Israel's construction industry; to the temporarily successful efforts of anti-Zionist academics to get the AUT, Britain's biggest university teachers union, to break all ties with Haifa University and Bar-Ilan University in 2005.

The PSC has also played a key role in mobilizing opinion in favor of divestment from companies that "provide products, services, or technology, that sustain, support or maintain the occupation of the Palestinian Territories." In particular, it has waged a relentless campaign against Caterpillar, the machinery manufacturer, which is accused of providing Israel with machinery used in the demolition of Palestinian property and in building the security barrier. In 2005 nine anti-Israel activists including members of the PSC were arrested for protesting outside Caterpillar's British headquarters.

The PSC also supported those within the Church of England who in 2006 (again temporarily) succeeded in getting the General Synod of the Church of England to agree to support the disinvestment from Caterpillar and other companies "profiting from the illegal occupation... until they change their policies."

The churchmen, "peace" activists, Jewish opponents of Israel, and full-time British anti-Israel agitators who work together under the PSC umbrella, have been joined by a number of NGOs and Christian groups including The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. Founded in 1990, and currently headed by Rev. Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek, former canon of St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, it is a fiercely anti-Zionist body that has, like the PSC, been at the forefront of the effort to get mainstream Protestant churches to divest from Israel.

As is the case in other European countries, Britain's increasingly influential Muslim community also plays a central role in the current anti-Zionist movement. As Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, perhaps the leading representative body of British Muslims, has explained:

Despite their many differences and political persuasions, Muslims scholars are united and resolute about one issue. They agree that the question of Palestine and the status of Jerusalem is the foremost international concern on the agenda of Muslims...The Muslim Council of Britain, therefore, views the illegal occupation of Jerusalem as a Muslim issue and not as a Palestinian issue.

This pre-occupation with Palestine among British Muslims has provided the opportunity for radical groups within the Muslim world to gain a foothold on a national level. A clear example of this is the success of MPAC--the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. It was only established in January 2005, as a non-profit organization relying on private donations for its upkeep. In its early days it was manned by volunteers who had full-time jobs. It saw the May 2005 British parliamentary elections as a real opportunity to promote an Islamist political agenda among the 1.6 million strong British Muslim population.

It targeted two groups--the established older leadership of Britain's numerous Muslim communities and members of parliament who were viewed as pro-Israel and pro-war in Iraq. MPAC had a superb election. After less than six months in existence and with no full time employees it could reasonably claim responsibility for the defeat of at least two sitting MPs whom it targeted as "anti-Muslim" and it also reduced the vote of  other MPs in targeted constituencies with large Muslim populations. By the time of the election it could claim five million hits on its web site, had hired its first full-time staff and was gearing up for its future role in both the Muslim community and in national politics. Not surprisingly, anti-Zionism is at the heart of MPAC's platform--it supports a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which it has termed an "MPAC solution for the Middle East". To underlines this, in October 2006 an MPAC advertisement for a conference celebrating the sixth anniversary of the Al Aqsa intifada talked of the 58 years of occupation of Palestine by Zionists (i.e. the Zionist occupation not only of the West Bank and Gaza, but also of those lands included in a Jewish state by the UN in 1947).

The antisemitic extreme right, urged on by a deep hatred of Jews and Israel, that in many cases surpasses its anti-Islamic xenophobia, is also at the forefront of the current anti-Zionist movement in Britain. One recent example of this phenomenon is the decision of David Myatt to change his name to Abdul Aziz ibn Myatt, and to embrace radical Islam in the belief that it alone could challenge Zionism and the West. Myatt was a founder of the British National Socialist Movement and a former leader of the British Neo-Nazi group Combat 18 (named after the place where the initials of Adolf Hitler's first and last names come in the alphabet).


British Anti-Zionists Then

All this may appear to be a far cry from the anti-Zionist efforts of the pre-1948 era. Certainly, there has been a concerted effort by opponents of Israel to explain the Zionist success in gaining a state in 1948 in terms of the complete lack of opposition that they faced in Britain. As Christopher (later, Lord) Mayhew, a junior minister at the Foreign Office in the Labor government of the late 1940s, and an ardent anti-Zionist, once explained--prior to 1967 the effort of Englishmen to explain the Arab point of view consisted simply of "the spontaneous initiatives of a few courageous men."

Mayhew's claim has no basis in reality. In the crucial years between 1937 and 1948 at least seven bodies were established in London to co-ordinate the anti-Zionist effort--the late 1930s saw the establishment of the Palestine Information Centre (PIC) and the Arab Centre; while the years between 1945 and 1948 saw the establishment of the Middle East Parliamentary Committee (MEPC), the Committee for Arab Affairs (CAA), the Anglo-Arab Friendship Society, the Arab Office, London, and the Arab Friendship Committee.

It is true that unlike the current anti-Zionist effort spearheaded by the PSC, which appeals first and foremost to public opinion, these bodies were primarily elitist both in terms of membership and in their efforts to oppose Zionist goals among policy and opinion makers. But it is also true that groups like the PIC and the CAA also looked to influence public opinion by promoting national campaigns, gaining access to the media to present their anti-Zionist views and by attempting to influence the political debate on the fate of Palestine--according to its 1937 charter one of the PIC's goals was "supplying information to the press and influential persons on the Palestine issue." Moreover, like these earlier bodies, the PSC has the support of a number of very public figures (the PSC's patrons include present and former MPs and members of the House of Lords, journalists, members of the church, academics, actors, peace activists and writers).

Most notable, in these terms, was the Committee for Arab Affairs (CAA). Founded in 1945 and secretly financed by the Arab embassies in London and the Arab League, its membership list reads like a "Who's Who" of the British Middle Eastern establishment. It was headed by Sir Edward Spears, a former MP and British ambassador in Syria and Lebanon. Apart from a number of high-profile parliamentarians from both the Conservative and Labor benches, its members included Sir Ronald Storrs, Governor of Jerusalem from 1920-1926; Sir John Hope-Simpson, the refugee and land settlement expert and author of the anti-Zionist Hope-Simpson Report of 1930; Colonel SF Newcombe, a contemporary of Lawrence of Arabia in the Great War who represented the Hashemites in London in the 1930s; the missionary and campaigner for women's rights, Dr. Maude Royden Shaw; the theologian Rev. Professor Alfred Guillaume; the Oxford Orientalist G.R. Driver; the journalists Kenneth Williams, London editor of the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram, and Nevill Barbour the first editor of the BBC publication the Arab Listener, who retired in 1956 as assistant head of the BBC Eastern Service.

Among those who supported the anti-Zionist efforts of the body, but felt unable to join due to official responsibilities, were Lord Altrincham, Minister Resident in the Middle East; Sir Harold MacMichael, High Commissioner for Palestine, 1938-1944; General Sir Robert Haining, Commanding Officer of British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan, 1938-1939 and Vice-Chairman of the Imperial General Staff, 1940-41; and Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, British Ambassador to Iraq.

The efforts of other anti-Zionist bodies of the pre-1948 era also highlight that neither the Islamists nor the far-Right are new recruits to the British anti-Zionist effort. In 1937, at the height of the Arab Revolt, the founder of the Palestine Information Centre, Frances Newton, Dame Justice of the Order of Jerusalem, daughter of a former Consul-General in Beirut and herself a retired Anglican missionary, traveled to Palestine to discuss the future of anti-Zionist strategies in Britain with the PIC's patron, the notorious Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, instigator of the bloody Arab Revolt and war-time ally of Hitler.

On her visit it was agreed that the anti-Zionist effort in London would be directly responsible to the mufti and his Jerusalem based Arab Higher Committee. From that point on the PIC and later the Arab Centre was staffed primarily by Arabs living in London loyal the mufti's brand of anti-British and anti-Jewish sentiment. The PIC worked so closely with the mufti that by 1939 its leaders were barred from entering Palestine by the British government. While back in London Arab members of the PIC and Arab Centre became heavily involved with some of the most extreme British antisemitic movements.

On a number of occasions in the late 1930s, the PIC's George Mansur, an ally of the mufti who had been vice president of the Arab Labor Union in Jaffa before moving to London, wooed the pro-Nazi and antisemitic Nordic League, with his arguments on how Britain was dominated by "Jewish gold" and how its government was dominated by Jewish power.

While a decade later in 1948 the Arab League in London was approached by a group known as the Arab Friendship Committee, which under the motto of Kultur, Kraftmanship and Knowledge, declared the goal of 'Arab friendship and a solution to their problems' and blamed the Jews for "our plight", advocating close Anglo-Arab collaboration on the grounds that unlike Jews:

Arabs do not eat our food, operate black market in scarce commodities... [and] have not descended like a swarm of locusts. They are not parasites who bleed this nation white in times of national emergency...Arab capitalists do not engineer world wars and profit by the misfortune of others.


Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism Then and Now

It is hardly surprising that presently, as was the case in the pre-1948 era, analyzing anti-Zionism as a product of antisemitism has been attacked as 'Jewish oversensitivity', and a most unfair weapon in the debate over Palestine. Nor is it surprising that anti-Zionists, past and present, have devoted much energy in distancing themselves from any charge that their opposition to Zionism was, and is, motivated by antisemitism.

In 1943, Freya Stark, a leading anti-Zionist of the era, as well as a famed Arabian adventurer and government propagandist put it like this:

An opponent of Zionism may be an anti-Semite: but he may just as easily not be so. In 1943, there was no anti-Semitism in British opposition: there was indeed so much sympathy for the Jews as such that it impeded our natural defenses against what had brought about an Arab war and was now threatening Anglo-American relations.

But, as David Ceserani has convincingly shown, as far back as the early 1920s the most outspoken supporters of the Palestinian Arab cause in London were individuals hostile to Jewry, such as William Joyson Hicks, Capt C. Foxcroft, and Lords Sydenham, Amptill and Lamington. The pro-mufti Frances Newton was by all accounts 'incurably anti-Jewish' (as the moderate Zionist Norman Bentwich described her) and her anti-Zionist efforts were supported by a number of notorious Jew-haters including Douglas Reed, Captain Alan Graham, the Earl of Norbury and Lady Makins all of whom joined the Anglo-Arab Friendship Committee which Newton founded in 1946 to oppose Zionism in England. The committee preoccupied itself in these years with providing a virulent defense of the "much-maligned" mufti, even going so far as to make excuses for his collaboration with the Nazi regime.

Now that the archives are, for the most part, open for the period prior to 1948, we can see for ourselves whether the popular claim of anti-Zionists of the period that their views on Palestine had nothing to do with antisemitism are indeed true. Take George Mansur of the PIC. As noted above, he was a regular speaker in front of the antisemitic Nordic League in London, where behind closed doors he was so extreme that after one speech a listener praised the "clear cut lead" that Mansur had given to his audience, who should "adopt the methods of the Arab. Extermination is the only solution to the Jew problem in Palestine and he could think of no better for this country." But in public Mansur took a different tack. In a letter to The Times, for example, around the same time, he was compassion personified, even making an appeal for the West to rescue "600 Jewish refugees" stranded in a steamer of Smyrna after being refused entry to Palestine.

Freya Stark is a similar case. Despite numerous public protestations to the contrary, her private correspondence from the 1920s-1940s, is full of statements that are extremely derogatory to both Jews and Judaism. In 1931 she informed Robert Stark that "I don't think that anyone but a Jew can really like a Jew." In 1940, during a trip to San'a, she felt it necessary to write to a relative that "the Jews here are so ugly; their eyes so spaniel soft, their manner so deprecating...these miserable people have been thinking over their wrongs ever since Titus wiped the temple floor with them." Her antipathy towards Jews was so intense that when, during a visit to the United States in 1943, she made acquaintance with Jews she actually liked it caused her concern. Confiding in a friend after attending a dinner where several Jews were present:

The distressing thing is that I like the Jews I meet here and have to argue with, almost better than anyone else I see, and there was a most disarming mixture of sharpness, kindness and humor about the Rabbi. But the little man on my right...Kaplan...made me long for a pet pogrom of my own before we were through the soup...I believe they...don't know how objectionable they are.

Moreover, Stark, despite her parroting of the hugely popular anti-Zionist argument both then and now that Zionism and Judaism are very different, was also guilty of intertwining the two.

I really can't see that there is any kind of way of dealing with the Zionist question except by a massacre now and then. What can we do? It is the ruthless last penny that they squeeze out of you that does it...the world has chosen to massacre them at intervals, and whose fault is it?

Likewise, the renowned suffragette and missionary Maude Royden-Shaw, another leading female anti-Zionist of the 1940s, who told listeners to a BBC radio debate on Palestine in 1945 that "my being anti-Zionist does not mean that I am an anti-Semite," spoke privately in similar terms to Stark. In a letter of 1947

I do dread outbursts of anti-Semitism in this country...we must be a population of angels since rioting hasn't broken out long ago, since we are so angelic I don't want to stain our record, by senseless revenge on a probably perfectly innocent people, at the same time I confess I wonder we haven't done much worse and much more'.

Or take the 1946 private correspondence from two leading members of the CAA--the theologian Rev. Professor Alfred Guillaume and MP Henry Longhurst to the committee's chairman Sir Edward Spears. Guillaume, perhaps the leading academic theologian in the country, wrote to Spears to say that under no circumstances should the CAA support opening up England to Jews as an alternative to allowing them into Palestine on the grounds that: "Everywhere one hears complaints about their behavior, their control of industry and finance and their very increasing weight in the universities. I am not anti-Jewish myself, but I confess I do not want to see this country dominated by Jews." A view echoed by Longhurst who added that if Jews were allowed into the country there was "a serious chance of our national stock being affected."

As the archives housing their private views and explaining their public motivations will remain closed for many decades to come, we must take today's anti-Zionists at their word that they are not motivated in their anti-Zionism by antisemitism. But one thing is for sure. As Labor MP Denis McShane, the head of an all-party parliamentary committee on antisemitism that reported in 2006, recently noted "Jew baiting behavior that would have had the Left outraged in the 1930s is now actively encouraged by an unholy alliance of the hard Left and Islamist fundamentalists, and the odious anti-Semites." And there is no doubt that many of those whom McShane draws attention to are also at the forefront of the British anti-Zionist effort.


Anti-Zionist Arguments Then and Now: Zionism is Nazism

One of the most notable, if despicable, current British anti-Zionist arguments is that Israel is a fascist, Nazi state--think of poet Tom Paulin's description of Israelis living in the West Bank as "Nazis, racists...I feel nothing but hatred for them" and the numerous placards equating the Jewish Star of David with the Nazi Swastika that are a staple at every anti-war, anti-globalization and pro-Palestinian rally. What is interesting here is that such comparisons of Zionism to Nazism have been part of the British anti-Zionist arsenal since the mid-1940s. During World War II a memorandum circulated among British Zionist leaders correctly predicted that after the war opponents of Zionism would engage in a strategy of presenting the Zionists as "Jewish Nazis" as a way of obstructing Jewish aspirations in Palestine.

Since that time accusations against Zionists have included an ideological identification with Nazism; active contact with Nazis; avoidance of a militant stance against Nazism until the late stages of World War II; the willing abandonment of Europe's Jews to Nazis; and the inheritance of the Nazi mantle in the post-war era. One notorious early comparison of Zionism to Nazism was made by Arnold Toynbee in the eight volume of his monumental A Study of History. This analogy was born out of his view of the similarity in the way that the Zionists treated Palestinians in and after the 1948 War with the way that the Nazis had treated the Jews in Europe. However, Toynbee was not alone. Writing in 1943 a senior official at the British Embassy in Baghdad, explained that there is a "powerful Jewish organization in Palestine that is run on Fascist lines and Nazi principles... Jewish refugees from the Nazi's Fascist tyranny in Europe have introduced into Palestine a good few of the methods employed to regiment the German masses by Himmler's hoodlums."

In 1945, with the ashes of the Jews of Auschwitz barely cold, Sir Edward Grigg (Lord Altrincham), British Minister Resident in the Middle East, and an associate of the CAA, warned a Cairo press conference of the "establishment of a kind of Nazi gangsterism in the Holy Land." Sir Edward Spears, head of the CAA, expanded on Grigg's view: "political Zionism as it is manifested in Palestine today preaches very much the same doctrines as Hitler," continuing "Zionist policy in Palestine has many features similar to Nazi philosophy...the politics of Herrenvolk...the Nazi idea of Lebensraum, is also very in evidence in the Zionist philosophy...the training of youth is very similar under both organizations that have designed this one and the Nazi one."

In a 1947 talk at the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Robin Maugham, a well-known commentator on the Middle East and the son of the former British cabinet minister, followed Spears in providing a detailed list of the similarities between Zionism and Nazism and in particular drew attention to: "the stare of hatred...the patriotic songs...the pride and confidence...are all the same as in the Germany of Hitler." In 1947 the Histadrut protested to the High Commissioner because the military prosecutor in an arms smuggling trial referred in court to the "Nazi discipline" maintained by the Histadrut.

These are just a few of the numerous comparisons of Zionism to Nazism in the 1940s, a period prior even to the establishment of Israel. Indeed, so central was the Zionist/Nazi analogy to anti-Zionist polemics during this period that in 1945 the distinguished theologian and historian of Judaism Rev. Dr James Parkes lamented that it was an argument "which I have heard too often."

The truth is, of course, that neither Zionist actions in Palestine pre-1948 nor Israeli actions since that time have anything in common with the horrors carried out by Germany during the Nazi occupation of Europe. Nor is there any moral equivalence between Hitler's industrial slaughter of the Jews and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. The effort to portray Zionism as a Nazi ideology and Israel as a Nazi state is especially dangerous for its capacity to impact negatively on attitudes towards Israel among the British public. As Victor Klemperer, the German-Jewish academic who lived through the Nazi era, put it "words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all." And it is in these terms that one should view the findings of a January 2005 poll carried out by YouGov for the Daily Telegraph which asked respondents to rate two dozen countries on the basis of twelve separate criteria. Israel came top of the list of countries people would least like to visit or live in. It was voted the country least worthy of international respect and was thought to be one of the world's "least democratic countries". Overall Israel ranked bottom in four of the twelve categories and in the bottom five in all the remaining categories.

But the fact that today's British anti-Zionists are using the same arguments to de-legitimize Israel as their predecessors did to de-legitimize Zionism in the pre-1948 period highlights more clearly than anything else that today's anti-Zionist movement is not primarily motivated by sincerely held moral concerns over concrete Israeli "wrongs" that have occurred since the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000 or the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, or even the establishment of Israel in 1948. Moreover, it lends credence to the view that today's anti-Zionists, are motivated in their intense and incomprehensible hatred of Israel by the fact that it is a Jewish country, just as in the 1940s, anti-Zionists were motivated (as seen above) by the fact that Zionism was a Jewish movement and Zionists were, for the most part, Jews.

About the Author
Rory Miller is a senior lecturer in Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London, and associate editor of the academic journal Israel Affairs. He is author of Divided against Zion: Opposition to a Jewish State in Palestine, 1945-1948 (London, 2000).

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