No ideology has persisted longer than antisemitism. With their stubborn insistence on maintaining their traditions, Jews have been mistrusted and persecuted for centuries. Unlike some other religions, Judaism does not advocate conquest. Instead, each Passover, Jews have prayed for God to return them to Zion.
In the modern age, the best educated and more secular Jews in Europe hoped that assimilation would allow them to become patriotic citizens while observing Jewish practices. They briefly gained a degree of acceptance.
Starting in the 19th century, however, they experienced a precipitous rise in discrimination, especially in Austria and Prussia. Many Jewish intellectuals decided they no longer wished to be at the mercy of a hostile majority. By the century’s end, a Jewish state seemed both possible and necessary. On April 1, 1890, Nathan Birnbaum gave that idea a name: “Zionism.” It lay dormant for six years before Theodor Herzl wrote The Jewish State. A year later, Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The Jews were ready to return to Zion without a shot being fired.
The opposite was true of anti-Zionism before the term was even coined. The seeds of this toxic ideology had already been sown, ironically, by a Jew who had succumbed to self-hatred. In 1844, Karl Marx, a descendant of a great rabbinical line, famously declared, “The God of the Jew is money.” In a letter that acquired the ominous title “On the Jewish Question,” he proclaimed that the Jew had to “be abolished.” A century later, it nearly happened.
The libel that Judaism is nothing but money-worship and capitalism would eventually provide the ideological link between Islamic jihadism and communist anti-Zionism. Both used it in service of their common goal of destroying liberal capitalist democracy. The alliance between the two began in the early 20th century thanks to Max von Oppenheim, a renowned Orientalist and adviser to the German Kaiser.
A converted Jew from a distinguished family of bankers, Oppenheim had long sought to forge an alliance between Germany and Turkey. He found a partner in the Ottoman Minister of War, Enver Pasha, who on Aug. 2, 1914 signed a secret defense alliance with Germany. The two countries would fight together in World War I. On Nov. 11, 1914, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V urged all Muslims to join in jihad. His speech was written by Oppenheim’s organization. The call went nowhere, but the torch would soon be taken up by Moscow.
A brilliant strategist, Oppenheim knew that knocking Russia out of the war would benefit Germany. He saw that the upheaval of the Russian Revolution provided an unexpected opportunity. In 1917, he sent Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and his entourage back to St. Petersburg from their exile in Zurich and provided substantial funds to finance a Bolshevik takeover. After the takeover was successful, Turkey’s Enver proved eager to cooperate with the new Soviet regime. With Lenin’s support, he was hired to direct the USSR’s Asian department. According to historians Barry Rubin and Wolfgang Schwanitz, “Enver would persuade Lenin to support an Islamic religious revolt based on a plan drawn up for the Kaiser.”
Lenin understood the power of political Islam. A Soviet effort to persuade Muslims, Africans and Asians to join the communist movement began almost immediately. In Sept. 1920, the Communist International (Comintern) organized a conference billed as “a congress of … workers and peasants of Persia, Armenia and Turkey.” Called the Congress of the Peoples of the East, its goal was a “holy war [jihad] for the liberation of all mankind from the yoke of capitalist and imperialist slavery, for the ending of all forms of exploitation of man by man.” The chairman Grigory Zinoviev and its co-organizer Karl Radek, both Jews, had been members of Lenin’s Zurich “family.”
Radek would help negotiate the April 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, according to which the USSR and Germany renounced all claims to one another’s territory. This advanced Oppenheim’s vision of using jihad for political purposes. As Laurent Murawiec explained in The Mind of Jihad, “Out of these talks also grew the Bolshevik jihad.”
Zinoviev and Radek were murdered by Stalin’s KGB in 1939.
Stalin’s pact with Hitler the same year was not merely tactical; increasingly antisemitic, he had no problem with demonizing Jews. As carefully documented by Jonathan Brent and Vladimir Naumov, only the tyrant’s death prevented his plan to slaughter Soviet Jews.
Stalin did support the United Nations’ partition plan for Mandatory Palestine, which aided the founding of Israel in 1948, but he soon turned against Zionism in earnest.
To that end, the Soviets’ propaganda department decided to use The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in 1903 under the auspices of the Russian secret police, the Okhrana. Though long since discredited as a forgery, it had already been disseminated throughout the world by American carmaker Henry Ford. Purportedly the “minutes” of a secret meeting of the Elders or Sages of Zion, it allegedly exposes their conspiracy to run the world by dominating money and communications. Arguably, it would become the most effective disinformation weapon of all time.
In 1951, the KGB’s chief of foreign intelligence brought the Protocols to Bucharest, from where Romania’s secret police translated and disseminated it across Western Europe. “It had to be done secretly, so no one would know that the publications came from the Soviet bloc,” wrote former Romanian chief of foreign intelligence Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa. Soon “the Securitate was spreading the Protocols around the Middle East as well.”
It worked. After Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Western left suddenly “discovered” the Palestinians, as Berlin-based historian Paul Hockenos put it. The Palestinians were cast as another victim of world capitalism. “The Palestinians’ liberation struggle fit squarely into the [leftist] students’ Third World paradigms and critiques of colonialism,” wrote Hockenos. “The Palestinians were heralded as valiant freedom fighters.”
A radicalized left made common cause with a resentful Arab-Muslim constituency, thanks in part to a “massive Soviet anti-Zionist campaign,” wrote Kennan Institute scholar Izabella Tabarovsky. “Designed by the KGB and overseen by chief Communist Party ideologues … [it] succeeded at emptying Zionism of its meaning as a national liberation movement of the Jewish people and associating it instead with racism, fascism, Nazism, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, militarism and apartheid.”
“Anti-Zionism in the 1970s and 1980s,” wrote Robert S. Wistrich, took on the characteristics of the fascist antisemitism of the 1930s. Thus, it became “the lowest common denominator between sections of the Left, the Right, and Islamist circles.”
Some leftists, among them Paul Berman, understood what was happening. Days before 9/11, he wrote in The New Republic: “The New Left’s vision of a lingering Nazism of modern life was suddenly reconfigured, with Israel in a leading role. Israel became the crypto-Nazi site par excellence, the purest of all examples of how Nazism had never been defeated but had instead lingered into the present in ever more cagey forms. What better disguise could Nazism assume than a Jewish state?”
And how better to attack the liberal democratic cabal that supposedly keeps underprivileged people of color in poverty, apartheid and misery than to embrace jihadist antisemitism?
In 2006, critical theorist Judith Butler gave the new derangement clear expression: “Understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.”
Western ideologues have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in using liberal concepts to illiberal ends. Through postmodernist jargon, progressives have managed to insinuate radicalism deep into the American cultural mainstream. Natan Sharansky wrote on Oct. 31 that the “parallel between … contemporary critical theories and the Marxism-Leninism of my Soviet youth has received new proof.”
Not only Israel but “the United States is also fighting a war for its survival,” Sharansky asserted. “American universities crossed a red line in the aftermath of Oct. 7. The struggle for campuses is therefore a struggle for America and its values—for an America that is liberal, that supports free speech and human rights, and that protects all of its citizens, regardless of race or creed, from vicious, lawless assault.”
Sharansky titled his article “Never Again Is Now.”
The is an edited version of an article originally published by Law & Liberty.