Op-Ed: Anti-Zionism in the Post-War USSR and Today's Russia

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Russian and International Studies Prof. André Gerrits: "Communists have always seen Zionism as a petty bourgeois deviant, as well as an expression of Jewish nationalism".
Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:37 PM


“Anti-Zionism became a significant element of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy toward the end of the 1940s. The Soviet leadership had supported Israel’s creation at the United Nations General Assembly in November 1947. They believed that Israel could become an ally in the Middle East. It rapidly turned out that this would not be the case.

“The initial anti-Zionism of the Soviet Union was also based on other considerations. The undesirable popularity of Israel among many Jews there became obvious in their enthusiastic welcome to the first Israeli Ambassador to Russia, Golda Meir in 1948. Furthermore, from an ideological point of view communism was against every form of nationalism including Jewish versions, Zionist or not.”

Historian André W.M. Gerrits is Professor of Russian and International Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. One of his books is titled The Myth of Jewish Communism: A Historical Interpretation.

“Communists have always seen Zionism as a petty bourgeois deviant, as well as a expression of Jewish nationalism. The emphasis anti-Zionism received in the Soviet Union and other communist countries during various periods depended mainly on international developments. Anti-Zionism played a role in the communist leadership struggles at the end of the 1940s and early 1950s in Czechoslovakia, as well as at the end of the 1960s in Poland.

“The communist leaders in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia would not use openly anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic arguments. Anti-Zionism however, fit in well with Stalin’s foreign policy. It also seemed that Stalin and his Czechoslovak followers thought that accusing people only of Trotskyism and Titoism would have less resonance in the party than anti-Zionism.

"This was yet another example of the communist manipulation of anti-Zionism as an instrument of political goals - in this case the affirmation of full political control over the Czechoslovak communist party.

“Anti-Zionism was also a factor in the Soviet Union’s relations with the United States and its efforts to strengthen relations with Arab countries and Iran. Only late in the 1980s, when Gorbachev changed the overall direction of foreign policy, did anti-Zionism largely stop being a Soviet political propaganda tool.

“One might say that anti-Zionism is a traditional ideological motif which has been mainly used and manipulated as an international political instrument. Anti-Zionism has deep roots in the socialist movement, and it  should not be confused with anti-Semitism. Early Jewish socialists were also opposed to Zionism.

 “There has been much speculation among historians about Stalin’s plans toward the end of his life to deport Soviet Jews. There is no consensus among historians about this. I have never seen proof though that Stalin had concrete plans to send all Jews to Siberia. He most probably was not interested in initiating pogroms, if only in view of his obsessive inclination to fully control Soviet society.

“Shortly before Stalin died in 1953, he accused nine doctors - six of whom were Jews - of a plot to poison the Soviet leadership. This infamous Doctors’ Plot was an extreme manifestation of Stalin’s mistrust of all ethnic groups which had a ‘link’ with other countries, particularly of his suspicion of the Jews. It is often asked whether Stalin was an anti-Semite. We don’t really know. Stalin allowed very few Jews into his direct environment, but his political suspicions were far from limited to Jews only.


Add the increased number of Russians living in Israel, and you have the major reasons why relations between Russia and Israel have intensified and improved considerably.
“Stalin’s successors dropped whatever anti-Jewish plans there were in the Kremlin. They realized the absurdity of the accusations of the Doctors’ Plot and did not wish to confront pogroms or deportations.

“To the best of my knowledge, among later Soviet leaders, relations with Israel and the Arab world never led to serious disagreements. The geopolitical environment in the Middle East and the East-West conflict did not leave the Soviet Union much choice as from the 1960s, Israel was firmly in the Western camp.

“Anti-Zionist publications were subject to censorship by the state body Glalvit like anything else which was printed. Several anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic books were published in the Soviet Union, until the early 1980s. Trofim Kitchko’s  Judaism Unembellished, sponsored by the Academy of Sciences, was just one notorious example. One may assume that in view of the importance of this subject, the author had received publishing permission from high levels within the communist party. 

As to the Soviet Union pushing the “Zionism is racism” resolution which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1975, Gerrits remarks: “I have no doubt that the major reason must have been to strengthen the Soviet Union’s global position, especially among non-Western powers. ‘Zionism is racism’ was a popular slogan among many ‘Third World’ nations”, especially of course in the Arab world.

He concludes: “Under the conditions of post-Cold War and post-communism, Russia has more room to maneuver. Add the increased number of Russians living in Israel, and you have the major reasons why relations between Russia and Israel have intensified and improved considerably. And this is of great importance to Russia. The country does not have many reliable and trustworthy allies or even relationships -- neither in Europe, where the Ukrainian crisis has further isolated Russia -- nor in the Middle East.”