How a Forgery – Not the Protocols – Shows Us Why So Many Still Don’t Understand Antisemitism When They See (or Produce) It.
You won’t see where I’m going with this at first but trust me and you’ll hear a good story with a very timely point. And if you have time, read the two short appendices at the end which add to the fun.
Bertram Wolfe, an expert on Communism and the USSR who died in 1977, wrote an obscure little book in 1965 entitled, Strange Communists I Have Known, with fascinating personal profiles and anecdotes about his experiences.
In “The Strange Case of Litvinov’s Diary,” Wolfe recounts a marvelous little scholarly mystery. Shortly after the death of former Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in 1951, a manuscript purporting to be his secret diary surfaced. A prestigious British publisher asked Professor E.H. Carr, the famous historian, to examine it for authenticity. Carr strongly endorsed it as genuine, even offering to write the preface about its historical importance.
A well-known American publisher gave Wolfe the same task. Wolfe found dozens of flaws showing the manuscript was an obvious forgery. Moreover, by comparing it to things written earlier by the former Soviet diplomat who supplied the manuscript, Wolfe even proved that this man was the forger. If you read the details you can see that Wolfe’s case is air-tight.
But what interests me (and you) most is Wolfe’s first reason for finding the manuscript phony:
“The opening pages…began with the first of a series of visits from a rabbi…who comes to Litvinov as one Jew to another to complain [that Soviet authorities] had looted two synagogues and arrested the rabbi of Kiev….Litvinov promises to intervene, though he knows that Stalin ‘doesn’t like me to interfere in questions concerning the Jewish religion.'”
Indeed, the “diary” claimed, when Litvinov had previously tried to help imprisoned Jew, Stalin threatened to try him before a high Communist party committee. But, Litvinov supposedly wrote, “I couldn’t help smiling at the threat” because the committee’s head Soltz “is the son of the rabbi of Vilna.”
[Incidentally, that was untrue. Although Wolfe doesn’t mention it, the father of Aaron Aleksandrovich Soltz was not a rabbi but a wealthy merchant. Soltz and Litvinov, too, actually has the same background as other anti-Jewish leftists of Jewish background, see Postscript 1.]
Wolfe was flabbergasted. He explains: “Thus, the opening passage presented Litvinov” as a loyal Jew, “ready to defend any and every Jew against his government and his party.” The same characteristics absurdly and falsely, are attributed to the committee’s head, Soltz, a “fanatical” Communist.
But, Wolfe writes, “Litvinov and Soltz had rejected their Jewish heritage in their youth. Their Jewish origin tended to make them more rather than less hostile toward religious and anti-Communist Jews.” Yet Litvinov, Soltz, and other Soviet Communist leaders of Jewish background are portrayed throughout the diary as pro-Jewish and even pro-Zionist.
Jewish Communist officials in the USSR sent thousands of Jews to execution or slave labor camps; closed synagogues; forbade the teaching of Hebrew and Yiddish; and did everything possible to wipe out Jews as a community and Judaism as a religion.
Indeed, over the last hundred years, aside from fascists, no one has persecuted Jews and their aspirations as a group–be it to practice their religion, maintain their own communal organizations, or have their own homeland-more than left-wingers of Jewish origin.
Wolfe concludes, referring to the manuscript: “I realized I was dealing with something I have frequently met [a supposed revelation of]: the ‘international Jewish conspiracy,’ the myth of Jewish solidarity overriding all political and other differences.”
Wolfe warned the British publisher, which ignored him and published it, and the American publisher, which rejected the manuscript.
Carr was a fine scholar and no antisemite. Yet he had missed entirely Wolfe’s opening point, something Wolfe was more sensitive about being Jewish himself, though also a former Communist who had a great deal in common with Litvinov and Soltz. In contrast, the British scholar and publisher didn’t comprehend the book’s antisemitic message, didn’t see how the claims made about Jews proved it to be a forgery, or didn’t care.
The contemporary point here is this: Despite decades of documentation and explanation about antisemitism, a large proportion of the Western intelligentsia doesn’t understand it. For them, Jews-at least those who aren’t almost totally assimilated intellectuals either indifferent or hostile to their backgrounds-are incomprehensible. They don’t subscribe to traditional antisemitic-that is, medieval Christian and Nazi–stereotypes but are blind to their permutations.
In other words, they don’t know antisemitism when they see it–or even practice it–unless it is in the crudest historical forms which they understand better since they were right-wing. What they don’t comprehend are the themes. If two American academics speak of pervasive behind-the-scenes Jewish influence using ridiculous sources, they can proclaim their innocence of antisemitism. If a former president uses traditional antisemitic themes but just changes the target from “Jews” to “Israelis,” or others use the word “Zionist” instead of “Jew” but employ all the old stereotypes they are baffled when someone tries to explain this point.
This Carr-style response thus manifests itself in two ways. The more obvious is the mere substitution of the word “Israeli” or “Zionist” for Jewish, that is not just being critical of Israel but doing so in ways that mirror the old categories of antisemitism: seeking world domination; having massive power behind the scenes to twist countries’ governments against their own national interests; dominating the media; being evil in nature or having evil intentions; murdering little children for organs (instead of the traditional blood); hating non-Jews and holding their lives to be cheap; and so on and so on.
Second, beyond all the specifics, Jews (or Israelis or Zionists) are seen as some strange form of life to whom the usual rules don’t apply. You simply don’t need the same level of evidence; the same standard of right and wrong; the same level of balance when dealing with this group.
These are the kinds of transferences we see in such contemporary events as the spreading organ-stealing story, the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories, or the collected works of Jimmy Carter, or the Goldstone report, to name but a few. They don’t deal with Israel or Zionists or Jews as they really are but as they exist in the imagination of those making such portrayals.
We are, of course, aware – indeed, hyper-aware nowadays – of how such things have been applied to other groups, something which is close to being outlawed today. But Jews, in large part, are the one minority group in the world to which reverence for “the other” doesn’t apply among the Politically Correct, multicultural crowd.
But aren’t a lot of these people Jewish? And what about Goldstone and other Jews who defame Israel and the great majority of the world’s Jews who support it? Simple, go back and read what Wolfe wrote.
A few hours after I wrote this article the British journalist Gordon Thomas wrote in response to the alleged assassination of a leading Hamas terrorist in Dubai by Israel that of course Jews everywhere could be depended on to participate in such killing:
“…the role of the [helpers] is a striking example of the cohesiveness of the world Jewish community. In practical terms, a sayan who runs a car rental agency will provide a kidon with a vehicle on a no-questions basis. An estate agent sayan will provide a building for surveillance. A bank manager sayan will provide funds at any time of day or night, and a sayan doctor provides medical assistance.”
In other words, all Jews are potential collaborators in killing people whenever Israel asks them. Wow. And I bet not a single person in the UK intellectual circles would catch that or understand why that is so objectionable. (By the way, how many Jewish car rental and real estate agents are there in Dubai?)
Thomas is still considered a credible expert on the subject although he previously wrote that the Mossad killed Princess Diana and publishing mogul Robert Maxwell. Such is expertise in today’s world. An omnipotent Jewish secret organization operating behind the scenes and killing everyone it doesn’t like. Now there’s a venerable antisemitic theme!
In fact, the same theme is in the Hamas Charter:
“With money they have taken control of the world media – news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting services, etc. With money they sparked revolutions in various countries around the world in order to serve their interests and to reap profits. They were behind the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution….With money they have formed secret organizations, all over the world….”
Postscript 1: Two of Wolfe’s personality portraits are of Angelica Balabanoff, the first secretary of the Communist International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the virulent enemy of nationalism who led a Communist revolt in Germany and was murdered when it failed. Here is what he writes of Balabanoff:
“Her mother was determined to make [her] a ‘fine lady.'” She learned many languages and had governesses but absolutely no Jewish religious or cultural training. About Luxemburg, Wolf noted: “had broken out of the circle of ghetto culture and religion….This background had made the young girl take easily to [Communist] internationalism.”
I have seen precisely the same pattern in the background of Karl Radek, another Soviet Communist leader, and many others of more recent times. Having dispensed with everything Jewish in their own lives, they see it as a reactionary barrier. Either Jews are to disappear completely or, at most, they have a mission of selflessly pushing for revolution without any legitimate interest of their own as a community.
As Wolfe understood, both the ideology and selfish self-promoting (not “self-hating,” a major myth) interests of such people means that: “Their Jewish origin tended to make them more rather than less hostile toward religious and anti-Communist [whose contemporary equivalent means Israeli or pro-Israel] Jews.”
Postscript 2: Those who understand Jewish history might find it amusing for me to mention another give-away found by Wolfe. When referring to Soviet leaders of Jewish background, the manuscript called them by their patronyms (the name of their father). For example, Lev Davidovich Trotsky [originally Bronstein], that is his father was named David Bronstein, is called Davidovich. Litvinov would never make such a ridiculous mistake. — Barry Davidovich Rubin
Barry Rubin is a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, the Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center of the IDC, and a senior fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center’s International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. He is also Research Director of the IDC’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy; the editor of the journal Turkish Studies; the editor of The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA); a member of the editorial board of Middle East Quarterly.