Thursday, January 31, 2013

1952: In the Face of Stalin's Antisemitism, Can We Block Israel's Communists?

A few short years after the Shoah, Stalin and his accomplices were on the road to anti-Semitic policies in the Soviet bloc. The Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia was a show trial with strong anti-Jewish overtones; late in 1952, the Soviet regime began preparing what seemed to be an anti-Jewish show trial, allegedly revealing a plot against the regime: the Doctors' Plot. We'll never know how far things would have gone since Stalin's death in March 1953 halted the proceedings and the underlying policy.

A classified letter from the acting Israeli ambassador in Moscow, Shmuel Eliashiv, reveals his uncertainty about the developing story and the proper response to it. The same week in January 1953 the Knesset was to debate the matter, so the cabinet ministers held a preliminary discussion to determine the government line (January 18, 1953).

Truth be told, there wasn't much Israel could do. Faced with a potentially lethal wave of Jew hatred which might affect large numbers of Soviet Jews, Israel's cabinet members were reduced to debating the pros and cons of making a stink at the UN or keeping a low profile in the hope things would blow over.

So what could be done? Well, perhaps the local, Israeli Communists, could be blocked. As Pinchas Lavon, Benzion Dinur, and Golda Meir all said, it was a scandal that Israelis who support an anti-Semitic regime should be allowed to express their opinions in public, to publish their support of Stalin in their newspapers, and the members of Knesset among them allowed to travel the world freely on Israeli diplomatic passports and badmouth their own country. These aren't patriots with radical opinions, they're foreign agents, or close to it, and someone's got to do something about it! Here, listen to Golda Meir:
Now about the Communists. What we really need to do is declare their organization is an enemy of Israel and they've got no right to exist in Israel. I don't know if perhaps we won't reach that point, but not yet, because if you say that seriously you must then do something, and I don't know if we can do that, but we can say it in the Knesset so that every Jew in the country, every teenager should know that they're against the country and they're beyond the pale.
I don't know if we can pass a law that will forbid them from renting public halls [for their assemblies], but we should create such a public opinion that owners of such venues will refuse to rent halls to them...
As for the law which grants immunity to Knesset members--Tufik Toubi, Mikounis and Willner, they can travel throughout the world on their diplomatic passports and besmirch us: it's shocking! It's as if the country has decided to commit suicide!
Were they serious, or were they merely letting off steam? Probably the latter. Moshe Shapira tried to cool things down by alluding to McCarthyism, which was rampant in the United States in those days: "They've got quite a witch-hunt going in America, but they haven't disbanded their communists, and they haven't shut down their newspapers, and I don't see how we can do so." Near the end of the meeting, Pinchas Rosenne, the Minister of Justice, cooled everyone off. Look folks, he essentially said, none of the things you've been suggesting are legal, and we're not going to do any of them.

So they didn't. And then Stalin died and that particular danger passed anyway.

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