(February 28, 2014 / JNS) #Rethink2014 is one of the more creative Twitter hashtags I’ve recently encountered. Launched by students opposing the hatefest otherwise known as “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW), the hashtag is designed for incorporation into tweets that explain why this ghastly annual event is a series of calumnies and lies from beginning to end.
“I oppose Israel Apartheid Week because I know what apartheid actually means.”
“I oppose Israel Apartheid Week because I’m sitting next to an Arab-Israeli Muslim IDF soldier on the bus in Jerusalem.”
“I oppose Israel Apartheid Week because it promotes anti-Semitism on campus.”
There are literally thousands of tweets in similar fashion, in yet another demonstration of the pushback against the IAW bigots that has, thankfully, gathered pace this year.
My own contribution to the hashtag, I have to confess, might have been a little obscure. “I oppose Israeli Apartheid Week because the analogy is a smear invented by the anti-Semitic USSR,” I said. But there is, in my view, an important truth here that I want to elaborate on.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the Soviet Union became the main source of state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the world. The Communist leader Joseph Stalin, who counterposed ideas of patriotism to the “internationalism” of his opponents in the party, started depicting Jews as a disloyal fifth column whose true allegiance was to Zionism, rather than the socialist motherland. (Sound familiar?) Amidst all the dark talk of “rootless cosmopolitans”—a euphemism for “Jews”—Stalin, many historians now agree, began making plans for a mass deportation of Jewish citizens to Siberia. This potential second Holocaust, in the shadow of the first one, was averted only by Stalin’s death at the height of the so-called “Doctor’s Plot,” in which mainly Jewish doctors were put on trial on fabricated charges of attempting to poison Soviet leaders.
Stalin’s successors stopped short of outright genocide against the Jews, but the anti-Semitic discrimination came thick and fast. In both the USSR and its satellite states like Poland, the communists launched anti-Semitic purges under the cover of “anti-Zionism.” There was a robust propaganda element to these actions, since the communists were keen to square their loathing of Jews with the imperatives, as they saw them, of Marxist theory. And so, from the early 1960s onwards, the Soviet Communist Party began pumping out books and pamphlets dedicated to showing that Judaism and Zionism were doctrines that glorified Jewish racism towards non-Jews.
The ugliest example of this genre was published in 1963—note that date, because it’s four years before Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and eastern Jerusalem following the Six-Day War—entitled “Judaism Without Embellishment.” The author was a man named Trofim Kichko. If the book brought anything to mind, it was the Nazi tabloid rag Der Sturmer, whose viciously anti-Semitic cartoons where echoed in Kichko’s book. Around the caricatures of hook-nosed Jews counting their fortunes in synagogues, Kichko came up with such gems as, “Jehovah delivered all the wealth of the non-Jews to the use of the Jews” and “Speculation in matzah, pigs, thievery, deception, debauchery—these are the real characteristics of many synagogue leaders.”
Kichko combined this classic anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. He defined Zionists as the “ideological parasites” of “Jewish capitalists” and flayed the Zionist movement—in much the same manner as today’s intellectually fashionable anti-Zionists—as a particularly brutal form of colonialism. This last theme resurfaced in many of the Soviet publications that followed Kichko’s book. In 1975, the Soviets began pushing another libelous tract by Valeri Skurlatov, entitled “Zionism and Apartheid.” In that work, Skurlatov screeched, “Racial biological doctrines, according to which people are divided into ‘chosen people’ and goyim, have been turned into official ideology and state policy in Israel and South Africa, where the ‘inferior’ are forcibly separated from the ‘superior.’ That is what apartheid is.”
Such propaganda went hand in hand with Soviet efforts to demonize Zionism as a form of racism, culminating in the notorious U.N. Resolution 3379—rescinded in 1991— equating Zionism with racism. And because foreign policy is often domestic policy, the campaign against “Zionism” was an integral component of the repression of the Jewish communities inside the Soviet Union.
It’s a sorry history that should be pointed out every time the slanders of Israeli Apartheid Week are aired. IAW likes to think of its activities as promoting human rights. In fact, its advocates are the ideological inheritors of a modern libel—that Zionism and apartheid are the same—that was deliberately manufactured to oppress Soviet Jews, at the behest of a state that murdered millions of people in its gulags. This is the company that Israeli Apartheid Week keeps, and it is time—as a Marxist might say—to toss the event onto the dust heap of history.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.