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Israel: From Darling of the Left to Pariah State

by Norman Berdichevsky (May 2012)


April 26 this year, according to the corresponding date of the Jewish lunar calendar marks the 64th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence (May 15, 1948).

Since then, Israel has been constantly in the news and with the passage of time subjected to the growing myth never challenged by the media, that the United States was wholly or largely responsible for fully supporting Israel on the ground from the very beginning, a claim that is without any foundation in fact.

The world has been inundated with a tsunami of Arab propaganda and crocodile tears shed for the “Palestinians” who have reveled in what they refer to as their Catastrophe or Holocaust (“Nakba” in Arabic). Their plight has been accompanied by unremitting criticism that the United States was the principal architect that stood behind Israel from the very beginning with money, manpower and arms.


David Ben-Gurion declaring independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism.

The fact is that President Truman eventually decided against the pro-Arab “professional opinion” of his Secretary of State, General George Marshall and the Arabists of the State Department. He accorded diplomatic recognition to the new Jewish state but never considered active military aid. Truman’s memoirs revealed a bitter contempt for the professional “striped-pants” boys of the eastern Ivy League Colleges who were the old-timers in the State Department.

Although sometimes angered by Jewish pressure on the question of the Zionist movement’s goal of a Jewish state, Truman’s strong Baptist sentiments and basic human decency won out in reaching his decision against the “experts” to recognize the State of Israel and his comments that

”Hitler had been murdering Jews right and left. I saw it, and I dream about it even to this day. The Jews needed some place where they could go. It is my attitude that the American government couldn’t stand idly by while the victims [of] Hitler’s madness are not allowed to build new lives.”1

However, it was actually not until the administration of President John Kennedy in the early 1960s that any American arms shipments were made to Israel.


Soviet Diplomatic Support

The struggle of the Jewish community in Palestine was endorsed completely by what was then called “enlightened public opinion,” above all by the political Left. At the UN, Andrei Gromyko asserted the right of the Jews of the whole world to the creation of a state of their own,” something no official of the U.S. State Department has ever acknowledged.

Soviet support in the U.N. for partition brought along an additional two votes (the Ukrainian and Bielorussian Republics within the USSR) and the entire Soviet dominated block of East European states.

Taking (as always) their lead from Moscow, the (hitherto anti-Zionist) Palestinian communist organizations merged their separate Arab and Jewish divisions in October, 1948, giving unconditional support to the Israeli war effort and urging the Israel Defense Forces to “Drive on toward the Suez Canal and hand British Imperialism a stinging defeat!”


World Wide Support from the Left

The most famous and colorful personality of the Spanish Republic in exile, the Basque Communist delegate to the Cortes (Spanish Parliament), Dolores Ibarruri, who had gone to the Soviet Union following the Civil War, issued a proclamation in 1948 saluting the new State of Israel and comparing the invading Arab armies to the Fascist uprising that had destroyed the Republic.

Just a few months earlier, the hero of the American Left, the great Afro-American folk singer, Paul Robeson had sung in a gala concert in Moscow and electrified the crowd with his rendition of the Yiddish Partisan Fighters Song.


Jewish Attempts to Buy Arms and Czech Approval

The major Arab armies who invaded the newly born Jewish state were British led, equipped, trained and supplied. The Syrian army was French-equipped and had taken orders from the Vichy government in resisting the British led invasion of the country assisted by Australian troops, Free French units and Palestinian-Jewish volunteer forces in 1941. In their War of Independence, the Israelis depended on smuggled weapons from the West and Soviet and Czech weapons.

The leaders of the Yishuv (Jewish community in Palestine), already in the summer of 1947, intended to purchase arms and sent Dr. Moshe Sneh (the Chief of the European Branch of the Jewish Agency, a leading member of the centrist General Zionist Party who later moved far leftward and became head of the Israeli Communist Party) to Prague in order to improve Jewish defenses.

He was surprised by the sympathy towards Zionism and by the interest in arms export on the side of the Czech Government. Sneh met with the Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis, who succeeded the non-Communist and definitely pro-Zionist Prime Minister Jan Masaryk. Sneh and Clementis discussed the possibility of Czech arms provisions for the Jewish state and the Czechs gave their approval,

In January, 1948 Jewish representatives were sent by Ben-Gurion to meet with General Ludvik Svoboda, the Minister of National Defense, and sign the first contract for Czech military aid. Four transport routes were used to Palestine all via Communist countries.

At first, a “Skymaster” plane chartered from the U.S. to help in ferrying weapons to Palestine from Europe was forced by the FBI to return to the USA. By the end of May the Israeli Army (IDF) had absorbed about 20,000 Czech rifles, 2,800 machine-guns and over 27 million rounds of ammunition. Two weeks later an additional 10,000 rifles, 1,800 machine-guns and 20 million rounds of ammunition arrived.

One Czech-Israeli project that alarmed the Western intelligence was the, so called, Czech Brigade, a unit composed of Jewish veterans of “Free Czechoslovakia,” which fought with the British Army during WWII. The Brigade began training in August 1948 at four bases in Czechoslovakia.

Czech assistance to Israel’s military strength comprised a) small arms, b) 84 airplanes – the outdated Czech built Avia S.199s, Spitfires and Messerschmidts that played a major role in the demoralization of enemy troops; c) military training and technical maintenance.

On January 7, 1949, the Israeli air-force, consisting of several Spitfires and Czech built Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighters (transferred secretly from Czech bases to Israel), shot down five British-piloted Spitfires flying for the Egyptian air-force over the Sinai desert causing a major diplomatic embarrassment for the British government.

According to British reports, based on informants within the Czech Government, the total Czech dollar income from export of arms and military services to the Middle East in 1948 was over $28 million, and Israel received 85% of this amount. As late as 1951, Czech Spitfires continued to arrive in Israel by ship from the Polish port of Gdansk (Danzig). Since May, 2005 the Military Museum in Prague has displayed a special exhibition on the Czech aid to Israel in 1948.2

In contrast, the American State Department declared an embargo on all weapons and war material to both Jews and Arabs in Palestine, a move that only had one effect in practice. There was no Arab community in North America to speak of and given the fact that a substantial and overwhelmingly sympathetic Jewish community in the United States was anxious to aid the Jewish side, the embargo simply prevented a large part of this intended aid from reaching its destination.

The small trickle of supplies and arms reaching Israel from North America was accomplished by smuggling. The U.S. vote in favor of partition was only de facto reflecting the State Department’s care not to unnecessarily offend the Arab states whereas the Soviet vote recognized Israel de jure.

Even with Czech weapons and Soviet aid, Israel would undoubtedly have been unable to halt the Arab invasion without a massive inflow of manpower. The United States, Canada and Europe provided no more than 3000 volunteers, many of them combat hardened veterans from both the European and Pacific theaters of war plus a few score idealistic youngsters from the Zionist movements with no combat experience or training.

Nevertheless, their numbers were a drop in the bucket compared to more than 200,000 Jewish immigrants from the Soviet dominated countries in Eastern Europe, notably, Poland, Bulgaria (almost 95% of the entire Jewish community) Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the former Baltic States and even the Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel arriving in time to reach the front lines or replenish the depleted ranks of civilian manpower. Without both the arms and manpower sent from the “Socialist Camp” to aid the nascent Israeli state, it would have been crushed.


The About-Face of The Party Line on Zionism

Jewish Marxist theoreticians the world over including several high ranking Party activists, all dedicated anti-religious and anti-Zionist communists had followed the Party Line and even praised a vicious pogrom by Muslim fanatics carried out against ultra-Orthodox Jews in the town of Hebron in Palestine in 1929. The Party Line then was that the Arabs masses were demonstrating their anti-imperialist sentiment against British rule and its sponsorship of Zionism.

In 1947, when Stalin was convinced that the Zionists would evict the British from Palestine, the Party Line turned about face. Following Soviet recognition and aid to Israel in 1948-49, both the Daily Worker and the Yiddish language communist daily in the U.S. Freiheit (Freedom) outdid one another to explain the new party line in that…. ”Palestine had become an important settlement of 600,000 souls, having developed a common national economy, a growing national culture and the first elements of Palestinian Jewish statehood and self-government

A 1947 CP-USA resolution entitled “Work Among the Jewish Masses” berated the Party’s previous stand and proclaimed that “Jewish Marxists have not always displayed a positive attitude to the rights and interests of the Jewish People, to the special needs and problems of our own American Jewish national group and to the interests and rights of the Jewish Community in Palestine.”

The new reality that had been created in Palestine was a “Hebrew nation” that deserved the right to self-determination. Remarkably, the Soviet propaganda machine even praised the far Right underground groups of the Irgun and “Stern Gang” for their campaign of violence against the British authorities.


The Psychological Comfort of Failing to admit the Truth

The Arabs cannot admit the truth of Soviet and East Bloc aid to Israel as it would rob them of their psychological advantage that they are victims who have the right to continually browbeat Western and especially American public opinion as responsible for their catastrophe.

Amnesia is a common malady among politicians.

Democrats and others who soured on American intervention in Iraq now have great difficulty remembering Iraqi aggression against Iran, Kuwait and the atrocities committed against the Kurds, Assyrians, Marsh Arabs and all opponents of the regime. Even President Bush and his supporters suffered from this amnesia and were reluctant or incapable of setting the record straight about 1948 and this is all the more regrettable in the light of the fervent support of the Left for Israel at that time.

 ___________________________

[1] Quoted from footage of Truman speaking, presented in the film The 50 Years War. A slightly different quotation appears in the book, Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, by Michael T. Benson. 1997, p. 64.

[2] Waller, Uri, Israel Between East and West; Israel’s Foreign Policy Orientation, 1948-56. (Cambridge University Press 1990). Zdroje Lederer and Vucinich, The Soviet Union and the Middle East; The Post-WWII Era, (Stanford University, California 1974). M.Confino and Sh. Shamir, The USSR and the Middle East, (Israel Universities Press 1973). Susan Hattis, Political Dictionary of the State of Israel, (Jerusalem Publishing House, 1987).

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Norman Berdichevsky contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions, on which comments are welcome.



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