How a Forgery–Not the Protocols–Shows Us Why So Many Still Don’t Understand Antisemitism When They See (or Produce) It

This is a cross-post by Professor Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center

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 director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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131 replies »

  1. peter1-

    I applaud the Israeli government for releasing Kuntar. Such gestures are necessary if lasting peace is to be achieved.

  2. Norman Hunter-
    hizbullah strikes are an adventure, where they go nobody knows, but operational success is dead Jews.
    Fortunately for Lebanon, the IDF did not have a similar goal, and this concept appears to be beyond your comprehension no matter how simply it is laid out for you.

  3. ‘Incidentally, you will find that 99.9% of Hezbollah strikes are civilian-free. How many rockets did they fire and what were the resultant casualties?’

    not for want of trying. so what?

  4. hizbullah started it. it threatened tel aviv, haifa etc. israel made sure it failed. and such as you have never stopped complaining since.

  5. NormanHunter, I think you are deluded. Kuntar was a maniac and will probably be sent in to kill again.

    And as for peace, you don’t know very much about the differences between the western concept of peace in warfare, do you, and the Islamic concept of hudna?

    How can I tell? Because if you did, you would not have posted the rubbish you did.

  6. NormanHunter, you are still talking in non-sequiturs. Conversations are made up of at least two parties and to succeed in this very basic social skill you have to learn to imagine how the other person might perceive what you say and adjust your input accordingly.

    But you cannot and haven’t done that.

    So I am done with you.

  7. “So I am done with you.”

    Nice manouevure to avoid answering a perfectly straight-forward question.

  8. ‘So why did the Israelis release Kuntar? Are they also “deluded”?’

    Because they value even their dead.

  9. ‘I applaud the Israeli government for releasing Kuntar.’

    You also seem to applaud Hizbullah for starting a war and condemn Israel for finishing.

    Get bent you English snob.

  10. While it is not evident why the 2006 war is being discussed here It seems that someone considers that the number of people killed in a war is the criterion for judging who is to blame.
    This person is quite ignorant seeing that he has no idea apparently
    1. of the fact that all of the over 4000 rockets launched into Israel by Hezbullah were aimed at civilian areas.
    2. that the reason why more Israelis were not killed was due to the extensive Israeli system of warnings and of bomb-proof shelters.
    3. that over a million Israelis were displaced during the war.-
    4. that a very high percentage of the Hezbullahin were killed during that war – The figures given to the world count their thugs in as civilians – the figures too were not verified by giving names of the dead as was done in Gaza – so they were always an approximation.
    5. Lebanon keeps threatening Israel with war and yet has proved its irresponsibility by still not providing civilian bomb shelters though they are clearly planning for war in other ways.

  11. Zkharya,
    While running for cover and trying to see what buttons he could press to evoke a reaction, how do I spell Troll, let me count the ways….he studiously steered clear of each and every claim that was debunked and hopped on to a new one.
    Another incarnation of the guardanista troll, little if any knowledge, even less ability to parse information, sloganeering out of a faulty handbook then proudly marching off with chest puffed out for getting responses, totally oblivious as to how useless the sludge of his remains are.

  12. What does “get bent” mean and is there a sensible reason for prefacing “snob” with “english”?

  13. Quite right peter1.

    When the troll is faced with fact he reverts to asking silly questions about the meaning of individual words. While it is clear that he is ignorant I suppose that given that he is on the internet he could possibly learn to use a search engine and look up these words for himself.

  14. What does “get bent” mean and is there a sensible reason for prefacing “snob” with “english”?’

    Look it up.

    Yes. You. For the reasons above.

  15. It is often forgotten that Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, admitted that Hezbollah actually provoked the 2006 Lebanon war in a newspaper interview.

  16. ModernityBlog
    Hassan Nasrullah was considered to be quite intelligent until he repreated the actions of the Gazans, kidnapping Israeli soldiers, while expecting the Israelis to react in to the same situation in a different way.

    Several months before the kidnapping of Regev and Goldwasser Hamas had kidnapped Gilad Shalit. Israel first attempted to have him released and then on receiving Hamas’s surly refusal, Israel went into Gaza and attempted to find him, unfortunately unsuccessfully.

    For some reason Nasrullah apparently considered that Israel would behave differently if soldiers were kidnapped by him.

    It was a very foolish expectation.

  17. ‘Zkharya-

    And if I were to call you a Jewish something-or-other, would that be acceptable?’

    Personally, I wouldn’t care. Certainly not from the likes of you.

    However, you are right: my calling you an ‘English’ anything was racist.

    I apologise, unreservedly.

    Everything else stands.

  18. Modernity you may know that after that war was over there was a Lebanese conspiracy theory going the rounds to the effect that Bush had asked for a war to be started and somehow Nasrullah was persuaded to do the starting. Perhaps that was what he admitted to.

    You never know.

  19. No, Margie, it was a proper article by er, Robert Fisk.

    “Hizbollah’s Response Reveals Months Of Planning” By Robert Fisk 16 July, 2006
    The Independent

    “The original border crossing, the capture of the two soldiers and the killing of three others was planned, according to Hassan Nasrallah … more than five months ago. ”


  20. ModernityBlog. How instructive this all is. The rumour I heard from my Lebanese friends must have based on this but included some details that they added to the original that made it more credible to them.

    One sees why Robert Fisk is the target origin of the verb ”to fisk”.

    Here is a quotation from the link:
    ” The mountain is surmounted by clusters of antennae which Hizbollah quickly identified as a military tracking centre. Before they fired rockets at Haifa, they therefore sent a cluster of missiles towards Miron. The caves are untouchable but the targeting of such a secret location by Hizbollah deeply shocked Israel’s military planners””

    If Fisk could actually write his chosen field should be fiction, but even in fiction nobody would credit that Hizbollah’s identification of’ a tracking centre antennae would shock the Israelis who know precisely how identifiable the the function of each antenna is.

    It’s the description ”quick identification” that gives Fisk away however. His tendency towards adding those unnecessary twiddly bits shows how he doesn’t understand the difference between truth and his imagination. He can’t possibly know how long it took for the identification and he also can’t know whether Israel’s military planners were deeply shocked.

    Cheap fiction, cheaply told.

    With all due respects to you, ModernityBlog. It might be an article but it certainly is not a proper article.

  21. @ Margie

    I’ve always enjoyed how Fisk dumps on everybody in the ME – but over the last year or two his focus on Israel has been IMO too intense.

  22. NormanH, re Samir Kuntar – it’s a conundrum, isn’t it? You don’t know, do you, what state Kuntar was in. I believe he is a spent force who cannot be dangerous any more.

    Still, I find it predictable, given the tone of your posts here, that you would mention Kuntar at all here, let alone in the way you did.

    And I agree with zhkarya, that Israel values her dead as much as her living. This is what Kuntar himself is reported to have said:

    ‘..In an interview to Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s satellite television network, Kuntar said: “I’m jealous of the Zionists, who don’t spare any effort in bringing back captured soldiers or soldiers’ bodies. Seriously, we are jealous of our enemy and its care for a [body] and how it goes to the end of the world in order to return it, and of its concerns for captives and how it will go to the very edge to bring them back.” ‘

  23. Only just saw this:

    (By the way, how many Jewish car rental and real estate agents are there in Dubai?)