What is the connection between Zionism and antisemitism? The question is rarely posed, since those who are interested in these themes are usually concerned with the converse link, between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. That link clearly exists. Those who hate the Jewish state usually end up helping themselves to the stockpile of ideological weapons of antisemitism, honed over centuries; and it’s hard to miss the historical continuity between traditional left-wing antisemitism in Europe and modern anti-Zionism. (The crassest form, unsurprisingly, was in Germany, as recounted in Hans Kundnani’s book Utopia or Auschwitz, about the German ’68 generation, who simultaneously attacked their parents for their war crimes, and demonstrated their antifascist opposition by helping the PLO to kill more Jews — or by planting bombs themselves in German synagogues.)
And yet, the link in the other direction is also impossible to ignore. It’s hardly novel to point out that Binyamin Netanyahu is committed to fulfilling Hitler’s dream of removing all Jews from Europe. (It’s true that the ultimate methods of the Nazis were exterminatory, but that was not an inevitable part of their programme. Many ferocious antisemites were happy to have the Jews be genuinely expelled. For example, to Palestine.) And now I have just discovered, reading Hannah Arendt, that one of the 20th century’s most famous antisemites was also a committed Zionist:
[Eichmann’s superior when he joined the SS] required him to read Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, the famous Zionist classic, which converted Eichmann promptly and forever to Zionism. This seems to have been the first serious book he ever read and it made a lasting impression on him. From then on, as he repeated over and over, he thought of hardly anything but a “political solution” (as opposed to the later “physical solution”, the first meaning expulsion and the second extermination)… He then acquired a smattering of Hebrew, which enabled him to read haltingly a Yiddish newspaper…
His first personal contacts with Jewish functionaries, all of them well-known Zionists of long standing, were thoroughly satisfactory. The reason he became so fascinated by the “Jewish question”, he explained, was his own “idealism”; these Jews, unlike the Assimilationists, whom he always despised, and unlike Orthodox Jews, who bored him, were “idealists”, like him… The greatest “idealist” Eichmann ever encountered among the Jews was Dr Rudolf Kastner, with whom he negotiated during the Jewish deportations from Hungary and with whom came to an agreement that he, Eichmann, would permit the “illegal” departure of a few thousand Jews to Palestine (the trains were in fact guarded by German police) in exchange for “quiet and order” in the camps from which hundreds of thousands were shipped to Auschwitz. The few thousand saved by the agreement, prominent Jews and members of the Zionist youth organisations, were, in Eichmann’s words, “the best biological material”.