Left's Love-Hate Relationship With Zionism

Robert Wistrich's Details Long and Strange Path

Forward!: Radicals of the 1930s and 40s mostly agreed that the U.N. should grant Jews a state alongside an Arab one. Things are very different today.
getty images
Forward!: Radicals of the 1930s and 40s mostly agreed that the U.N. should grant Jews a state alongside an Arab one. Things are very different today.

By Tony Michels

Published November 07, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

“From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel”
By Robert S. Wistrich
University of Nebraska Press, 648 pages, $55

Imagine this: It’s the summer of 1947 and you’re a Communist or a fellow traveler or a Socialist or another kind of anti-Stalinist. Despite myriad differences with political rivals, you share the same basic position on the question of Palestine. You insist that the United Nations grant Jews a state alongside an Arab one. When the United States balks at this proposal, you attend a rally or sign a petition or fume at the State Department. In November you celebrate the United Nations’ vote in favor of partition, and six months later you curse the Arab invasion of the newborn State of Israel.

And when Israel emerges victorious, you hail the political resurrection of the Jewish nation in the form of a vital socialist or proto-socialist democracy. You might criticize some of Israel’s policies, but you do so as a sympathizer — not as a Zionist necessarily, but as someone impressed by Zionism’s achievements. If you are one of the few who oppose Israel resolutely, then you probably belong to a fringe sect. Such was reality, more or less, at the time of Israel’s creation.

A different situation prevailed four decades beforehand. Prior to World War I, nearly all socialists in Europe and the United States viewed Zionism, to the extent they thought about it, as reactionary and futile. But then again, they paid little attention to it. Early 20th-century Zionism did not seem especially significant, certainly not a pernicious force in the international arena. A shift occurred in 1917, following the Balfour Declaration and the Bolshevik Revolution:

Soviet leaders and Communists everywhere began to denounce Zionism as a tool of British imperialism. But that was communism. Democratic Socialists began to muster sympathy toward Zionism during the 1920s, enough to welcome David Ben-Gurion’s party, Poale Zion, into the Socialist International. When it came to Zionism, the interwar left was divided, which should come as no surprise, because the left was, well, divided.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.