Albert Lindemann is perhaps the only Jewish scholar who, unlike most Jewish pundits, acknowledges the reasons why they’ve been so disliked. No ellipsis added between unquoted paragraphs:
Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Chapter 12: World War I
The Beginning of Disillusionment in the West
It was at the front, of course, that the most horrendous price was paid. Single battles saw hundreds of thousands young men massacred and large areas turned into moon landscapes. The battles of 1916, particularly at the Somme and Verdun, by far exceeded in senseless death and destruction anything known in the annals of warfare. Those clashes, which were finally indecisive in military terms, induced even some of the most patriotic to question how much longer a war of this sort could continue.
One cannot help but be impressed with the far-ranging ways in which fears and resentments were finding focus in anti-Semitism: Jews as shirkers at the front; Jews as weak-kneed parliamentarians and pacifist press lords; Jews as capitalists making money from the war; Jews as all-powerful and self-serving bureaucrats in the government; Jews as treacherous revolutionaries; even Jews as rank-and-file workers who were especially prone to destructive radicalism. The old anti-Semitic refrain—“the Jew is everywhere”—gained unparalleled plausibility in Germany and began to attract a larger part of the population than even before.
The Peace Settlement
Civilian control of the military prevailed in both France and Great Britain, and in neither country was the tendency to point an accusing finger at Jews as in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.
In Great Britain the Jewish World commented, in response to an anti-Semitic exchange in the columns of the London Times, that Jews faced “the beginning of a new and evil era. We cannot say any more that there is no anti-Semitism in the country that loved the Bible above everything.”
The Polish overlords and neighbors of the Jews in Galicia had hardly been free of anti-Semitism before the war, but the empire’s constitution protected Jews, and mutually beneficial political arrangements had been worked out, encouraging a degree of Polish toleration. These fell apart under the hammer blows of the war, and the non-Jewish population began to blame the Jews, natural targets given their central role in local commerce, for the shortages, high prices, and generally catastrophic economic conditions of the time.
To the east, in the chaos and moral anarchy of the Russian civil war, conditions were far worse for a longer period. The Red Army of the new Bolshevik regime faced not only the reactionary Whites but also anarchist forces and the rag-tag armies of various nationalities that hoped to gain independence. The White armies were particularly prone to anti-Semitism, since they believed the Soviet regime was ruled by Jews and assumed that Jews, even traditional ones, were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. Such beliefs became all the stronger when a pro-Bolshevik soviet regime took over in Budapest in March 1919 led by a communist council of people’s commissars that was in fact composed entirely of Jews.
The entry of the United States, in the spring of 1917, gradually tipped the balance in favor of France and Great Britain. That victory was finally achieved in the autumn of 1918 after internal upheavals in Germany brought to the fore those who were willing to negotiate a peace.
For the anti-Semitic right in German-speaking central Europe, America’s alliance with the French and the English meshed into a by now well-established image of Jewish-controlled powers that were conspiring to destroy Germany. The prewar assertion by men like Treitschke, Langbehn, and Chamberlain that the English and the Americans were shallow, commercial minded and materialistic—Jewish in spirit—was now made even more adamantly. Chamberlain, in a letter to Wilhelm II, wrote that “England has fallen totally into the hands of the Jews and the Americans. This war is in the deepest sense the war of Jewry [Judentum] and its near relative, Americanism, for the control of the world.”
When the Germans agreed to an armistice, they thought that it could be in accordance with Wilson’s Fourteen Points. They were tragically mistaken.
The Paris Peace conference that gathered in early 1919 oversaw the redrawing of the map of most Europe and large parts of the rest of the world. The Jewish Question was on the agenda at Paris, one of a large number of nettlesome issues, seemingly impossible to resolve in a way that would be just to all concerned. The German quickly labeled it a “Jewish peace,” not only because they believed it vindictive, which it unquestionably was, but because they were persuaded that it meant even greater Jewish power in the postwar world.
Again, their fantasy world found much in the real world to nourish it. Even many of those who were not notably anti-Semitic viewed the peace settlement as part of a titanic struggle between German and Anglo-American values. Germans saw themselves as an idealist, disciplined, self-sacrificing people facing peoples devoted to shallow liberalism and egotism. Those Germans who had put faith in Wilson’s points believed themselves cynically betrayed. In their eyes, the final “dictated peace” (Diktat) was an act of unspeakable perfidy. A number of smaller adjustments favoring Germany’s neighbors only added to the sense of impotent outrage in Germany. The worst outrage on the eyes of many Germans was the huge reparation payments with which they were saddled.
Most Germans concluded that these measures were designed not only to punish but to ultimately destroy their country. Enormous debate emerged at the time and for many years afterward about the wisdom and justice of these draconian arrangements. Those Germans leaders who eventually agreed to work within the terms of the treaty did so not because they accepted them as reasonable but because they finally saw no realistic alternative.
The weakness of Hungary in defeat made possible the temporary victory of a communist takeover; no other political tendency was willing to assume responsibility. That the soon notorious communist dictator of Hungary, Bela Kun, and all the commissars of the short-lived soviet republic were Jews helped to bring about a sharp change in the climate of opinion in Hungary. From being a country whose elites recognized the usefulness of Jews, it became one in which Jews were widely seen as destroyers. The virulence of Magyar anti-Semitism soon came to rival that in other parts of east-central Europe.
Most of the new countries to emerge from the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires had sizable Jewish populations, and the new leaders of these countries were required by the Allies to accept so-called minority clauses. The clauses, attached to the various treaties establishing the new countries, not only stipulated that civil equality be given to minorities, long an issue in official relations with the state, such as courts of law. Furthermore, the state was obliged to support separate primary schools for the minorities in their own languages.
The manner in which the minority clauses were imposed lent itself to a belief in international Jewish power. The minorities in question, Jews in particular but also large numbers of Germans and Magyars, worried about their fate in the new nations. The dominant nationalities in the new countries, on the other hand, angrily objected that sovereign states could not accept or long tolerate impositions and prescriptions from outsiders. Many of the leaders of the new nations saw the minority clauses as providing a way for the Jews to be able to continue in their prewar economic prevalence—or even to exercise a behind-the-scenes domination of the new countries—whereas Jews saw the clauses as absolutely necessary protection, as did other minorities.
American and British Jews at the Peace Conference played a key role in the formulation of the terms of the minority clauses. As one author put it, “such distinguished Jewish spokesmen as Louis Marshall, Stephen Wise, and Julian Mack laid siege to Allied plenipotentiaries” and were “in continual contact with President Wilson and Colonel House.” Another scholar has observed that the British activist Lucien Wolf had established an “intimate relationship” with Jacques Bigart, the secretary of the Alliance Israelite Universalle, and “essentially fused the policies of Anglo-French Jewry during and after the First World War.”
Most of the representatives of the new nations considered the American and British Jews to be their enemies. In the eyes of those representatives, the minority clauses imposed or perpetuated autonomous enclaves of foreign peoples on them of a sort that would not have been acceptable to Wilson or other major American politician in their own country, or by the leaders of the other Allied countries.
Well-placed Jews in America, Great Britain, and France believed that they had an obligation, now even more than before the war, to defend Jews in eastern and central Europe, even if those well-placed Jews also differed vehemently among themselves about the notion of Jewish nationalism as such.
The issue was much like that already discussed in regard to Romania: The leaders of the new nations wanted to develop their own national middle class, and they did not want that class to be predominantly Jewish, especially if the Jews in question did not speak the national language or identify with the national culture. Jews also understandably tried to hold on to the social and economic positions they had established in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The Balfour Declaration and the Palestinian Mandate
The Peace Conference dealt with many issues, including carving up the defunct Turkish Empire, which had profound implications for the Jewish Question in Europe, in that it opened up a possible fulfillment of the Zionist dream, the establishment of a national home for Jews in Palestine. The story of the genesis of the Balfour Declaration, in which Great Britain officially favored the establishment of such a home under British protection, is an improbable, even astonishing one. Some have presented the Balfour Declaration and the eventual establishment of a modern Jewish state as a modern miracle; others have seen the emergence and survival of the state of Israel as evidence of how the power of Jews, operating in the corridors of power in Europe and America, has been able to achieve things that defy all probability—and justice.
Churchill and others argued that Jewish financial clout and the control of the news media by Jews were compelling reasons to have them on Great Britain’s side. Churchill was particularly concerned to rally American Jews. Other British leaders worried about the reaction of the indigenous Arab population in Palestine, and those who knew something about the population warned that British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine risked permanently alienating the Arab world, with disturbing long-term implications for British national interest.
Balfour was an enigmatic personality, impressing many of those he met as cynical and remote. In spite of his distaste for the great masses of eastern Jewry, he considered the Jews as a “gifted race,” and he spoke of an “immeasurable debt” owed to them by Christianity. Many scholars have concluded that he, more than any other British politicians, was moved by religious sentiment and a related doctrinaire attachment to Zionist ideals. However much that was the case, he was a man who, once having committed himself, pursued a project with an iron will, proving to be Weizmann’s most important Gentile convert to the Zionist cause.
In a letter published in the London Times on May 24, 1917, the presidents predicted that a Jewish homeland in Palestine would be a “calamity.” It would be a dangerous violation of the principle of equal rights if Jews in Palestine were to get special political privileges and economic preferences. Prophetically, the letter warned that the result would be endless, bitter warfare with the Arabs of the region.
The term “window of opportunity” has nowhere been more appropriate for a declaration of this sort could never have been made before a short period in 1917, and certainly at no time afterward. Wilsonian principles were ignored: The overwhelming Arab majority in Palestine at the end of the war (Jews constituted at most a quarter of the population) was simply not given the same consideration.
A declaration by the British foreign minister in favor of a Jewish national home did not automatically make such a home acceptable to the rest of the world. In 1917 most countries were distracted by more pressing issues. News of the Balfour Declaration shared headlines on November 8 with the announcement of the Bolshevik victory in Petrograd. In the midst of raging war and revolution, the declaration simply did not get the scrutiny it deserved. It was at any rate a political document of the British government, not a legal one based on international consensus, appropriate deliberation, and due process.
The vagueness of the declaration also accounts for the degree to which it was not much discussed. The French were particularly distracted at this time, in that they were losing their Russian ally and about to face another concentrated onslaught of the German army; they understandably did not devote much attention or energy to the Middle East.
What the European powers or Great Britain had to say about the future of Palestine was not considered binding by the Arabs of the region, who had not been consulted—indeed, who felt cynically misused and betrayed, not unlike the Germans in reaction to the Versailles Treaty. They soon began to mobilize in violent opposition to Jewish settlement, which they saw as a form of European imperialism.
They also began to pick up some of the baggage of modern European anti-Semitism. Already by early 1919 Arab leaflets were comparing Jews to poisonous snakes. No nation, it was asserted in them, had ever welcomed or long tolerated Jews, and the Palestinian Arabs would fight to prevent Europeans from solving their problems at the expense of the Arabs—dumping unwanted Jews from Europe into Palestine. These words uncomfortably recalled Herzl’s own searing and widely quoted remarks that “we move where we are not persecuted; our appearance then leads to persecution. This is a fact and is bound to remain a fact everywhere.”
Many in the British military administration of the region sympathized with the Arab majority. They also viewed the Jews as “refuse” from Europe, economic parasites and communist revolutionaries.
Churchill’s comments in 1919: “We are pledged to introduce the Jews into Palestine, and they take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.”
As suggested in the Preface, it would be grotesque to argue that the hostility of the Arabs, this “anti-Semitism” by “Semites,” was mysterious, having to do only with their own psychic problems and not at all with Jewish actions. One might argue that the Arabs made many mistakes, had poor leadership, and showed many moral flaws. That they picked up some of the crudest anti-Semitic myths developed in Christendom is hardly to their credit. But an irreducible reality remains: They were not treated with fairness, and their resentments were understandable, indeed predictable.
At the same time, another bold experiment, which might be described as an utterly contrasting attempt to resolve the Jewish Question, had begun in Russia.
Excerpted from a longer entry that eventually will contain most of the book’s chapters.