Jews, Fascism and Antisemitism. A paradoxical alliance?

Betar Youth Group, Sarny, Poland, 19/10/1932. My mother, Raya Bak, 15 years old, seated immediately below and to the left (facing) of Menachem Begin (centre).

By Ann Elizabeth Fink

In Israel, the son of the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, Yair Netanyahu, posts an image on his Facebook page that is laden with antisemitic imagery. He draws an equivalence between what he refers to as far-right “scum” and leftist “thugs”. He also claims that lefties hate America and Israel and are the real threat. Fascism “and all that is in the past.”

In Melbourne, Australia, a thuggish, muscle bound publicity seeking Gym owner, Avi Yemini, a self-proclaimed ‘prominent figure in the Jewish Community’, an ardent defender of the Jewish State, a bigoted anti-Islamist, has attracted over 80,000 followers on his Facebook page. Yemini, who claims to have fought in the IDF, finds common ground with other Islamophobic organisations, Neo-Nazi extremists, who have not tried in the past to hide their antisemitism.

How far do these extreme and perhaps unhinged manifestations of an alliance between Jews, Fascist and Anti Semites represent what is happening in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora? How far does the outrage expressed in Haaretz and in some Israeli social media extend? How much support do the Avi Yeminis of Melbourne enjoy in Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora? How did it even come to be a question we need to discuss?


Jews and Fascism

Jewish support for fascist regimes is not a new phenomenon. As first articulated by Mussolini in Italy in the 1920s, it was a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. Placed on the far Right on the traditional Left-Right spectrum, Fascists rejected assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature and accepted political violence, war, and colonisation as means to achieve national goals.

Many Italian Jews were sympathetic to the regime and occupied significant offices and positions in Italian political and economic life until the promulgation of the 1938 racial laws (Italian Jews were also active in anti-fascist organisations).  Vladimir Jabotinski was an early admirer of the Fascist regime, which helped the establishment in 1934 of a navy officer training camp in Civitavecchia for Mandatory Palestine Jews, laying the foundations of the Israeli Navy. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, Italian Fascists, influenced by Nazism and its race theories, actively began promoting antisemitism; Jews were depicted both as “rootless cosmopolitan” capitalist bourgeois and as communists.

Until the mid-1930s, European Jews were divided in their allegiances all along the political spectrum. On the far Left, Jews were active in the Communist parties and on the far Right, followers of Jabotinski’s Herut movement admired Mussolini. In South America, the Middle East, and in North Africa, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt, Jews were active in communist, socialist, nationalist and Fascist movements.

Among Zionist Jews, these divisions were deep and significant, both in Europe and in Mandated Palestine. There is no need to rehearse the bloody events which preceded the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel as Menachem Begin on the iRght, and Ben Gurion, representing the centre Left, vied for control of the Yishuv (the nascent State) with their separate militias.

In pre-war Poland, the Zionist youth group Betar, founded by Menachem Begin and HaShomer HaTsair, the Zionist socialist secular youth movement, fought battles on the streets of Warsaw. To my parents, Avi Yemeni would not have appeared a singular phenomenon. The difference being that in Warsaw, Betar youth operated within the Jewish community and not alongside the Polish Fascist groups.  In Italy, it was different. In the UK, while there were deep divisions within the Jewish community as to how to react to Fascism, there is no evidence that there was any active support for the fascists.

Among the most vociferous of the Jewish anti-fascist groups was the Bund. “The Bund… founded in 1897, in Poland, Russia and Lithuania… opposed assimilation, defended Jewish civil and cultural rights, and campaigned actively against anti-Semitism” (Phillip Mendes). The Bund was secular and socialist.


Jews and Pre-War Tolerance of Antisemitism

For centuries, European Jews had survived within societies that were deeply and ineradicably antisemitic. The Middle East was at times more hospitable but this varied over time and place. Jews survived despite pogroms, cruelty, abuse, deprivations and restrictions on movement, trade, residence, social participation, communication and speech. They adapted strategies by cooperating, working within the system, and moving from one area to another when life became intolerable, or were expelled. They converted to the dominant religion when it was possible, and when personal ambition was so strong it would not tolerate the strictures placed upon it.  But self-identification as Jews for the large majority appeared to be non-negotiable, nor for the most part, possible.

There were exceptions. The Association of German National Jews (Verband nationaldeutscher Juden) was a German Jewish organization during the Weimar Republic and the early years of Nazi Germany. The goal of the Association was the total assimilation of Jews into the German Volksgemeinschaft, self-eradication of Jewish identity, and the expulsion from Germany of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. It was opposed to Zionists and Eastern European Jews, whom they saw as racially and spiritually inferior. Some German Jews supported Hitler because they thought antisemitism was only for the purpose of “stirring up the masses”. Politically, the Association was close to the German National People’s Party, a national conservative party, which refused to recognise the association, despite the fact that they had come out in support of Hitler. Founded in 1921, it was dissolved in 1935.

In Vienna, there was also deep antagonism to the influx of Eastern European Jews and early support for Hitler. In 1978, Friedrich Hayek, the Vienna born, Nobel Prize winning economist, in support of Margaret Thatcher’s immigration policy, warned of the dangers of immigration into the UK by “visibly different looking” populations. He attributed the rise in antisemitism in Vienna after WW1 to the “sudden influx of Galician and Polish Jews” This was a view commonly held not only by Viennese and German Jews, but also by Anglo Jews in Australia who warned against the mass immigration of Eastern European AND German and Austrian Jews both before and after World War II (WWII).


World War II and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

In the aftermath of WWII, the defeat of the Fascist forces of Germany, Italy and Japan revealed the full scale of the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe and the barbarity of the Japanese in Manchuria and elsewhere.

With the end of the war, and the creation of the United Nations (UN), the international community vowed never to allow such atrocities to happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere. This became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, introduced at the first session of the General Assembly in 1946 and ultimately adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

The end of WWII also saw the establishment of the State of Israel by the UN in 1949 only a few months after the UDHR, and to which Israel itself became a signatory. In the 1950s, Jews world
wide identified strongly as anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi. The enemy was Communism and the most heinous, state-sponsored, postwar manifestation of antisemitism, was that of Stalin’s USSR.

In the following decades, the world witnessed much progress but also huge population dislocations and mass slaughter (although not on the scale of WWII). Partition of India into Pakistan and then Bangladesh along a religious divide, just prior to the UDHR, made for an inauspicious introduction. The European Union, the success of Desegregation in the USA, the spread of the Civil Rights movement as well as the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, all seemed indications of a world adopting more progressive and liberal ideologies. The rise of nationalist movements which succeeded in overthrowing dictatorships and colonial powers in the Middle East, Africa and South America also raised optimistic spirits in the first two or three decades after the war.

These hopes were dashed as increasingly old conflicts re-emerged and were manipulated by the superpowers, the Cold War protagonists. The dependence on oil fueled the rise of new powers in the Middle East. Crimes against humanity were again being committed, this time in full view: in Srebenica, Bosnia, Rwanda, all under the watch of UN peacekeepers, claiming they were helpless to intervene. The colonial powers which had been overthrown in Africa, gave way to even more despotic regimes in Zimbabwe and Libya. The ousting of the Shah of Iran in a revolution fomented by secular democrats, was hijacked by a repressive theocracy.


Zionism and Racism

In Israel and elsewhere, The UN (and the UDHR) came to be regarded as impotent and inconsequential, and open to manipulation by the member states, culminating in the passing of UN Resolution 3379, which determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. ” It has since been rescinded. The UN frequently criticised the behaviour of the Israeli state towards the indigenous Palestinian population, over whom it had gained sovereignty as a result of the War of Independence in 1948 and of whom a large proportion, approximately 700,000-800,000 people, had been expelled; very few of whom were ever to be allowed back to their homes. This action was contrary to the UDHR, a problem that had been expediently set aside during the vote for Israel’s admission to the UN, but which was to become a very thorny issue in later years. The Nakba continues to be a central issue in the present conflict.

The mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands in the early 1950s (in roughly the same numbers as expelled Palestinians) and the ‘integration’ of these ‘Arab Jews’ into the new state, appeased the consciences of many liberal Zionists, fervent believers in human rights, and who had enthusiastically welcomed the UDHR. Indeed, the UN took ‘temporary’ responsibility for this population, albeit with disastrous consequences. It was hoped that just as Israel had settled the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands with full citizenship entitlement, the Arab Palestinians would be similarly absorbed by neighbouring states. This was not to happen.

In the Diaspora, Jews were becoming increasingly attached to the State of Israel, a homeland for the Jewish people, and one which promised to safeguard the rights of all its citizens. American Jewry which had in the past received the majority of refugees from Europe, was largely democratic and progressive. Jews had been active leaders of the trade unions in New York, and in the 1960s and 1970s were in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. For these Jews, Israel was a beacon, a socialist-leaning, democratic State. David Ben-Gurion, leader of the Labour centre Left, had triumphed politically over Menachem Begin, whose ideological origins lay in Mussolini’s Right wing Fascism.  In South Africa, Jews were prominent in the fight against Apartheid.

Zionist organisations became the centre of Jewish life. Not only in the USA but in the Australia, South Africa, South America, Canada and the UK.  It provided the networks and social and emotional security to a population dispersed across the continents. The USA and Israel now had roughly equal numbers of Jews and the USA was felt by most American Jews, in that postwar era, to be an alternate homeland to which they owed fealty, and which they were happy to subscribe and support. Rallying around the Zionist flag replaced what had been the ‘kehila’, the tight community of the shtetls, and Jewish cultural centres in the large European cities.

In the first three postwar decades, Left wing Jews became increasingly disillusioned. First with Soviet Communism, then the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, followed by the invasion of the Soviet army into Czechoslovakia following the “Prague Spring”. Simultaneously in Poland, a student-led revolt became the pretext for the Gomulka government to unleash an antisemitic purge which resulted in the emigration of tens of thousands of Polish Jews, 13,000 of whom arrived in Israel between 1968 and 1972.


The 1967 Six Day War: Expulsion and Colonisation

Israel’s victory in June 1967 led to further large-scale dislocation of the Palestinian population and the military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The Golan was annexed as was East Jerusalem. The military occupation exists to this day, as does full military control over Gaza. The Occupation of the Palestinian Territories (OPT) also opened the areas of the West Bank, known to the Israelis as Judea and Samaria, to large scale colonial type settlement; a population which now exceeds 600,000.

Menachem Begin and the Rise of the Political Power of the Right

In 1977, Menachem Begin became Prime Minister of Israel as head of the Likud party, whose origins as the Right wing Herut movement had, in the early years, been relegated to the political fringe. This victory of the political centre Right ended the three decades of Labor Party centre Left dominance.

The population that voted for Begin was one in which the Mizrahim, North African and Middle Eastern Jews were much more represented than in previous elections. 30 years on from the founding of the state, a new generation of Israelis had reached adulthood and were expressing their dissatisfaction with the old guard. Conservative politicians around the world hailed Begin’s victory. Those of us who remembered his origins were more pessimistic.

The ensuing 30 years saw Israel’s increasing prosperity, the rise in influence of religious nationalism as well as the power of the Chief Rabbinate. The IDF remained entrenched in the OPT, and following the uprisings (intifadas) of 1987 and 200 this Military Occupation became even more restrictive and punitive. The failure of the Oslo peace talks also diminished the influence of ‘liberal’ Zionists.

In the Diaspora similar forces were at work. Prosperity, generational change and security, all contributed to an increase in conservative political perspectives. In 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emigration to Israel of one million former Soviet citizens, the political scene was completely rebooted.  Both in the Diaspora and in Israel, there was a growth in political conservatism along with privatisation of public assets and corporate globalisation.

Netanyahu: Consolidation of Right Wing and Religious Political Power

In 2015, on the day of the general election and following Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s urging in tweets and emails, “Hurry friends, the Arabs are going out in droves to vote, bussed in by the Left”, the Israeli electorate voted into power the most Right-wing government in its history (it should also be noted that the Joint List, made up of largely Israeli Palestinian with some Israeli Jewish representation, formed the third largest of the political parties represented in the new Knesset). This Knesset proceed
ed to introduce the most divisive, ethnically biased laws in Israel’s history. The present Israeli government more commonly refers to Israel as The Jewish State. Divergent and critical opinions, while still possible, are increasingly threatened. In the OPT, settlements grow apace; the stranglehold by Israel from the outside, and the repression of Gaza from within, by Hamas, has impoverished and disempowered the population to the point of near starvation and desperation. All movement towards an independent Palestinian State is on hold.

The Israeli Black Panthers (pictured) were disadvantaged Mizrahi Jews protesting the Israeli State’s actions. Image taken from

Contributing to the success of the parties that comprise Netanyahu’s Right-wing coalition are the Mizrahim, who have long complained of institutional bias rooted in Ashkenazi (European) dominance and control in the early years of the state. This discontent with the uneven distribution of power and economic advantage has become an important factor in the rise of the Right’s political parties. Antipathy to Mizrahim does not seem to be obvious at the individual level, but social and economic structures dating from the early years are still factors influencing the distribution of wealth and power.


The ex-CIS (Soviet) émigré population is more Right wing and anti-Palestinian than other secular sectors of the the Israeli public. Most supportive of the continuing OPT, and the concept of a greater Israel are the Settlers, religious and secular nationalists, a large contingent of whom are American citizens, or whose settlements depend on American philanthropy and who in 2016 come out in strong and very well organised support for Donald Trump.

Alongside and adding to this consolidation of right wing political power is the stranglehold of the Chief Rabbinate. Represented by two political parties in the coalition, this ultra nationalist government ultimately depends on their support. The Chief Rabbinate also assumes the power to decide who will be classified as a Jew and thus deserving of the full rights of citizenship. Not only does the Chief Rabbinate exercise its power within Israel in deciding who is a Jew, but it is extending that right worldwide. The Chief Rabbinate publishes lists of recognised Rabbis in the Diaspora whose marriages and conversions will be recognised and names those whose marriages and conversions will no longer be valid. The ramification of such policies will have serious consequences for citizenship both within Israel and in terms of rights of immigration from the Diaspora. The Jewish State now contemplates how to deal with first degree Jews and a second tier of ‘would be Jews’, whether by conversion, marriage, birth in Israel to non-recognised parents, or a host of other conditions as ordained by the Chief Rabbinate.


Racism within Israel

In contemporary Israel, racial bigotry directed at fellow Israeli Jews is a fact of life. Manifestations of such bigotry in Israel are witnessed and suffered daily by the Ethiopian community. A visibly distinct community, they are regularly victims of police brutality and suffer systematic discrimination in the education system, workplace, in housing and throughout the bureaucracy. African refugees and asylum seekers are subjected to frequent abuse by the general public and their status is not recognised by the Israeli Government.

The Palestinian Israeli population is also targeted most often in Jerusalem and particularly in East Jerusalem. Right wing fascist organisations such as Lahava and the Jerusalem Betar Football fans are often seen and recorded, intimidating East Jerusalem residents and are always present at protests and demonstrations held by anti-government groups.


The IDF in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

In the OPT, the brutality of IDF soldiers, their terrorising activities aimed at the pacification of the Palestinian population and the blindness of the upper echelons to the murder of civilians recently came under close scrutiny with the prosecution of the soldier Elor Azaria, who shot at close range an already gravely wounded Palestinian, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, lying prone and ‘neutralised’ on the ground. This deliberate murder was by no means singular, but it was filmed and the video widely distributed by the NGO B’Tselem. This action offends the rules of the IDF, and the decision of a particular commanding officer on that particular day, and prior to the distribution of the video, resulted in the arrest and subsequent prosecution and sentencing of the soldier. Azariya’s action was by no means unusual. What followed was a public debate as to how tolerable were such actions and by implication many other actions of the IDF in the OPT. Moshe Ya’alon, the Defence Minister and no supporter of the Palestinian cause, resigned in the wake of public and political criticism of his declaration that this killing of a wounded prisoner was indefensible.


Political Fascism in Israel

The recent proclamation by the Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, supported by the Netanyahu cabinet, that henceforth she would seek to ensure that Israeli Jewish rights and interests would always trump human rights and civil liberties, clarified for even the most optimistic liberal Zionists, the essentially fascist nature of this present Knesset.

Liberal Zionists in Israel and much more prominently in the USA are increasingly uncomfortable with this openly Right wing, proto-fascist government and its toleration of the thuggish and brutal behaviour of some of its ardent supporters.

Netanyahu’s very public courtship of Donald Trump, his supine silence in the face of openly antisemitic rants by Donald Trump’s close advisors, does not seem to worry the majority of voters in Israel, but has stirred considerable controversy among Jews in the USA and elsewhere in the Diaspora. In publications such as Haaretz and in social media, there is outrage, moral indignation and disbelief that Jews are allying themselves, not only with Right wing, anti-democratic, but also transparently antisemitic forces. Charlottesville graphically illustrates the impotence of Israeli leaders to deal with what had originally been one of the prime goals of the establishment of the State of Israel.

In 1948, Israelis and Jews worldwide declared, ‘Never again will we march like sheep to the gas chambers’. In 2017, Yair Netanyahu, the 26-year-old son of the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, posts statements on his Facebook page, in which he draws an equivalence between what he referred to as far-Right “scum” and Leftist “thugs” denying any elements of fascism, claiming “all that was in the past.”

This statement from the very pinnacle of Israeli power, enables Zionist supporters in Israel and in the Diaspora to deny the ideological fascism informing the Jewish State’s policies and to frame the opposition and anti-fascist forces as Leftist thugs, ‘anti-Israel, anti-American’. This discourse has been quickly seized upon. The language of equivalence is repeated among pro-Zionists and attempts to characterise the anti-fascist movement as a danger to the State of Israel.


The Alliance of Jews, Fascists and Anti-Semites

Jewish fascism has deep historical roots. This alliance with openly antisemitic political forces in the postwar era is not so familiar. Maybe the best analogy would be with Jews who supported Stalin’s communism even after the Soviet pact with Nazi Germany. The contingencies of war, and later a sublime ho
pe that the socialist goals of the Soviet Union and satellites such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, would excuse/justify this aberrant behaviour.

Much the same sort of thinking appears to lie behind many individuals’ support for Trump and Netanyahu. Is it good or bad for Jews? Advantageous or disadvantageous for the Netanyahu government? What is being claimed is that the welfare of the Jewish State trumps all other considerations. This present alliance of Jews, Fascists and Anti Semites in the USA, is seen in many quarters as instrumental in furthering the Zionist project.

Nor are such alliances really new. All Israeli governments have dealt with despotic dictatorships, African, Asian, South American and Middle Eastern. Many of the countries to which Israel has supplied weapons, technology, and know-how, have had antisemitic and anti-Israel policies. What distinguishes this government is its open and political support for such regimes. Israel’s dealings with such hostile states were always covert. Their dealings did not serve to enhance their standing in the public eye. Despite its discriminatory policies toward Israeli Palestinians, and the facts of the OPT, Zionists have always maintained that they are committed to the values of Democracy.

This open espousal of fascist ideology, the lengths to which the present Israeli government is going to dismantle the institutions that supported the democratic project and the total failure to find a solution to the Palestinian Israel conflict have led some progressive Zionists to radically rethink their loyalty to the project.

So-called Liberal and Democratic Zionists, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, now face a stark choice between defending their beliefs in the principals of the UDHR, the belief that all citizens of the State of Israel are entitled to equality before the law, and in all other matters, including family reunion. The alternative is descent into an ethnic and religious autocracy, a fascist regime, whose declared aims are the annexation and colonisation of 60% of the Palestinian West Bank and the continuation of the denial of human rights and civil liberties to its 4.5 million inhabitants. Together with the prioritising of Jewish citizens in Israel, this effectively means holding 6 million Palestinians hostage in a Jewish State.

The question being asked is how far do the extreme and perhaps unhinged manifestations of an alliance between Jews, Fascist and anti-Semites as represented by Yair Netanyahu and the Avi Yeminis of the Diaspora characterise what is happening in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora? In the USA there has been very loud and widespread condemnation. In Australia, a few hundred Jewish anti fascists have been active in successfully opposing Avi Yemini’s attempts to gain a respectable platform from which to disseminate his fascist and racist ideology. But many in the Jewish community seem happy to adopt the language of equivalence (of far Right and anti-fascists) and the characterisation of those who are anti fascists as ‘Leftist’ and anti-Israel.  In contrast to the USA, there is no evidence that the support for the Jewish State is being eroded in Australia.


This article has been published in the AJDS magazine Just Voices, Issue 14, Nov. 2017: Antisemitism.