Zionism in the service of imperialism
U.S. and Israeli flags wave in the air as Israeli soldiers display their weapons before an arriving U.S. representative outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. | Elizabeth Dalziel / AP

Editor’s Note:

This article is adapted from a 1971 book by Dr. Hyman Lumer titled, Zionism: Its Role in World Politics. Released by International Publishers, the book appeared in the aftermath of the 1967 “Six-Day War.” During that war and in the years that followed, debates around Zionism, Israel, oil, and Middle East conflict were central parts of political life.

Lumer was editor of Jewish Affairs, a Communist Party USA publication. A foe of both anti-Semitism and Zionism, he wrote his book as a primer on the historical context and ideological battles animating the events of his time. Today, in the midst of Israel’s latest war against Palestine, People’s World pulled Lumer’s book from the archives to share excerpts of his analysis with our readers. While the situation has evolved in the half-century since it was written, the book still retains valuable information relevant to understanding the current war.

This article is the third installment in a three-part series. The first part dealt with the nature and roots of Zionism as an ideology. This second part examined the founding of the State of Israel and Zionism’s role in guiding its domestic policies and approach to relations with the Palestinian people and neighboring Arab countries. This article lays out details of the long-running efforts of Zionist ideologues to align Israel with the interests of the big imperialist powers, its relations to apartheid South Africa, and the role the country plays as a part of U.S. Middle East strategy.


Clearly, the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state, in the heart of a territory already populated by Arabs, could be pursued only at the expense of and in opposition to the Arab people, and only in league with their oppressors.

Dr. Hyman Lumer and his 1971 book. | Lumer photo: People’s World Archives / Book cover: Courtesy of International Publishers

Indeed, from the very outset, the Zionists based their hopes of success on the support of one or another imperialist power, offering in return a Jewish state which would serve imperialist interests in the Middle East.

It is well known that Zionist leader Theodor Herzl sought the backing of the rulers of tsarist Russia, France, Germany, and Turkey. He even tried to sell his idea to the pogromist Russian Minister of the Interior von Plehve, whose hands still dripped with blood from the slaughter of Jews in Kishinev, as an antidote to the mounting revolutionary movement in Russia.

In The Jewish State he wrote: “Supposing His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism” (p. 30). The barbarism he referred to was the rising tide of Arab revolt against brutal Turkish rule.

Max Nordau, one of the top Zionist leaders, spelled this out in his speech at the 7th World Zionist Congress in 1905. He said:

“The movement which has taken hold of a great part of the Arab people may easily take a direction which may cause harm in Palestine. The Turkish government may feel itself compelled to defend its reign in Palestine, in Syria, against its subjects by armed power. In such a position, Turkey might become convinced that it may be important for her to have, in Palestine and Syria, a strong and well-organized people which, with all respect to the rights of the people living there, will resist any attack on the authority of the Sultan and defend this authority with all its might.”

Later, during World War I, Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, similarly made overtures to British imperialism. In a letter written in November 1914, he stated that “we can reasonably say that should Palestine fall within the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage a Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have in 20 to 30 years a million Jews out there, perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it, and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal” (Trial and Error, p. 149).

This idea was repeatedly stressed during Weizmann’s efforts, which culminated in the Balfour Declaration in 1917. It is important to note that Weizmann conceived of the Jewish settlement not as an independent state but as a dependency of Britain—of a “benevolent imperialism.” He wrote:

“What we wanted was a British Protectorate. Jews all over the world trusted England. They knew that law and order would be established by British rule, and that under it, Jewish colonizing activities and cultural development would not be interfered with. We could therefore look forward to a time when we would be strong enough to claim a measure of self-government” (ibid., p. 191).

The ‘Balfour Declaration’ was the first major political triumph of Zionism. The declaration came in a letter that British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour, left, sent to Lord Lionel Rothschild, honorary president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, on Nov. 2, 1917. The letter stated that the British government ‘views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and would use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.’ | Public Domain

Herzl had similarly conceived of the Jewish state in Palestine as a subject state under Turkish rule. The reason for this is obvious: The Jews would continue for a considerable length of time to be a minority in Palestine, hence the protection of a ruling power was needed for the establishment of a steadily growing Jewish settlement in the face of the opposition of the Arab majority.

The goal: All of Palestine

Moreover, the Jewish state which Zionism envisioned as coming ultimately into being with the aid of British imperialism was to embrace all of Palestine—more, all of the Biblical Land of Israel. This idea was implicit in the Balfour Declaration, issued on Nov. 2, 1917, which states:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Note that the Declaration speaks of “civil and religious rights” of the non-Jewish communities but says nothing of national rights. That is, these are treated as communities within a Jewish National Home.

Later, when Transjordan was cut off from Palestine by the British and set up as a separate state, Weizmann and other Zionist leaders were greatly disturbed at the removal of this area from the orbit of Jewish settlement. Within the Zionist movement, as time went on, the idea of a Jewish state embracing all of Palestine was pressed with increasing insistence.

In the United States, in May 1942, a conference called by the American Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs adopted what came to be known as the Biltmore Program, which demanded “that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth.” The 1944 convention of the Zionist Organization of America also adopted a resolution calling for a Jewish Commonwealth which “shall embrace the whole of Palestine, undivided and undiminished.” The same stand was adopted by the World Zionist Conference held in London in 1945.

If subsequently the Zionists agreed to partition of Palestine as called for by the 1947 U.N. resolution, this was motivated purely by expediency, with the anticipation that eventually the Jewish state would embrace all of Palestine.

Claims to all of Palestine (and more) violate the national rights of the Palestinian Arab people. They fly in the face of the U.N. Charter and the basis on which the State of Israel was established by the U.N. Small wonder that the Arabs met the Balfour Declaration with extreme hostility and that they viewed it as creating a bastion of imperialism in their midst.

Nor did the Zionists do anything to dispel this hostility. During the period of the British Mandate (1922-48), when confronted with the duplicity of the British imperialists and their efforts to pit Jews and Arabs against one another, they rejected any idea of allying the Jewish settlers with the Arab peasants and workers in common struggle against British oppression—an alliance which might have led to the eventual emergence of a binational state.

Instead, they pursued a policy of antagonism toward the Arabs and persisted to the end in their efforts to make Palestine a Jewish state with the aid of British imperialism. Thereby, they drove the Arab peasantry into the arms of the reactionary Arab ruling class, the big landowners, who were for their own reasons opposed to British rule.

Throughout the Mandate, Zionism served as a buffer between British imperialism and the striving of the Palestinian Arabs for their freedom from imperialist domination.

A map showing the planned routes of Israeli, British, and French forces for the invasion of Egypt in 1956. | via Harvard University

The road to war and U.S. dependency: 1956 and 1967

Virtually from the very birth of the State of Israel, its rulers have undeviatingly pursued a policy of aggressive expansionism in relation to the Arab states. And toward this end, they have consistently based themselves on seeking the support of the imperialist powers, in return giving support to imperialist policies in the Middle East.

In the relentless struggle between the oil-hungry forces of imperialism and the Arab forces of national liberation, the Israeli ruling circles have without exception placed themselves on the side of the former.

In its early years, in return for the supply of armaments by France, Israel supported French imperialism against the struggle of the Algerian people for independence, voting consistently on the side of the imperialist forces in the United Nations.

In 1956, Israel joined with Britain and France in the invasion of Egypt. To the Israeli people, the Sinai invasion was presented as an act of self-defense, necessitated because (a) the border raids on Israel by the terrorist fedayeen had become intolerable and had to be stopped, and (b) Egypt, having received substantial supplies of arms from Czechoslovakia, was preparing to attack Israel. If there were simultaneous attacks by British and French forces, this was simply a happy coincidence of which Israel could take advantage.

But the facts were quite otherwise. Britain hatched a plot, one of the most callous in the whole sordid history of imperialism, to overthrow Nasser, who had committed the unforgivable crime of supporting the National Liberation Front in Algeria and had capped this with the even more unforgivable crime of nationalizing the Suez Canal.

British Foreign Minister Anthony Nutting resigned over the affair and revealed in his memoir that it was part of the plan for Israel to attack Egypt through the Sinai ahead of the British and French issuing an ultimatum to Cairo to clear its troops before the European powers invaded. The British knew Egypt would refuse, and so the British and French would then bomb its airfields to facilitate Israel’s and their own advance.

The plot failed, thanks to the opposition of U.S. imperialism for its own reasons and thanks even more to the threat of the Soviet Union to enter the conflict on Egypt’s side. France and England were forced to withdraw, and Israel was eventually compelled to abandon its Sinai conquest.

But its leaders did not abandon their policy of collusion with imperialism against the Arab peoples. Now they proceeded to ally themselves with the machinations of U.S. imperialism for the overthrow of the anti-imperialist governments in both Egypt and Syria. Eager to have its own outpost in the region, U.S. imperialism became the Israeli government’s chief backer.

This was developed as a deliberate policy by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, in 1957. Biographer Michael Bar Zohar records:

“The experiences of the Sinai campaign had convinced him that without the support or at least the good wishes of the Americans, he would not again be able to act boldly. Fortunately, there existed means of drawing the United States closer to Israel—by playing on the Communist danger.

“So, Ben-Gurion endeavored to become the Middle East champion of anti-communism in the eyes of Washington. ‘I feel sure,’ Dulles wrote to Ben-Gurion in August 1957, ‘that you share our consternation over recent developments in Syria. We are studying the problem closely, and we should like to proceed to an exchange of views with your Government on this subject in the near future.’

“Ben-Gurion jumped at the opportunity. ‘The transforming of Syria into a base for international Communism is one of the most dangerous events that the free world has to face up to…. I should like to draw your attention to the disastrous consequences if international Communism should succeed in establishing itself in the heart of the Middle East. I believe the free world ought not to accept this situation. Everything depends on the firm and determined line taken by the United States as a leading Power in the free world” (Ben-Gurion, pp. 241-42).

It could hardly be put more plainly. And the Ben-Gurion government proceeded at once in this direction. Here we have the beginnings of the collusion which culminated in the Israeli aggression in 1967, just as the previous collusion with British and French imperialism had led to the Sinai invasion in 1956.

This period was marked also by the establishment of close ties with the Bonn regime in West Germany. Starting with the absolution of Nazi crimes through the payment of reparations, these involved West German investments in Israel and secret arms deals between Ben-Gurion and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

In 1966, following a victory of the progressive forces in Syria, the U.S.-hatched plot to overthrow the governments of Egypt and Syria was greatly stepped up. Jordanian troops were massed on the Syrian border, and in September, an abortive military coup took place, whose leaders fled to Jordan when it failed. And there appeared growing signs of Israel’s involvement in these machinations.

In the spring of 1966, the United States sold Israel a number of Skyhawk attack bombers. This was the first time that such offensive weapons had been sold directly to Israel, and official Israeli circles rejoiced. But it became quickly evident that this was no act of magnanimity. New York Times correspondent James Feron reported on June 11, 1966, on some conversations with Israeli officials. The following excerpt is highly instructive:

“This is the way a Foreign Office official put it: The United States has come to the conclusion that it can no longer respond to every incident around the world, that it must rely on a local power—the deterrent of a friendly power—as a first line to stave off America’s direct involvement. In the Israeli view, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara outlined this approach last month just a few days before the Skyhawk deal was announced. … Israel feels that she fits this definition and the impression that has been conveyed by some Government officials is that Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Mr. McNamara conferred over Skyhawk details in the context of this concept when the Israeli diplomat was in Washington….”

The quid pro quo was clear. And it became even clearer in the events that followed. Border raids from Syria and Jordan were met with acts of massive retaliation far out of proportion to these raids—acts which were strongly condemned by the U.N. Security Council.

The raids were accompanied by mounting threats of military invasion of Syria. There was growing talk in official circles about the need for a “new Sinai.” In an Israeli Independence Day interview, the London Jewish Chronicle of May 19, 1967 reports, then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stated that the only deterrent available to Israel against Syria was a powerful lightning military strike—powerful enough to produce a change of heart or even a change of government in Damascus and swift enough to prevent any other countries from rallying to Syria’s support.

Israeli forces race across Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during the ‘Six-Day War’ of 1967. | IDF

In short, the groundwork was being laid for aggressive action just as it had been in 1956. This chain of events culminated in the actions taken by Egyptian President Abdel Nasser in May 1967—the removal of the U.N. Emergency Force troops from the Egyptian-Israeli border, the blockade of the Straits of Tiran, and the mobilization of Egyptian military forces. The purpose of these actions, he declared, was to come to the aid of Syria in the event of Israeli attack.

The response of the Israeli leaders was the invasion of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the June “Six-Day War.”

It is not possible here to present a detailed refutation of the false contention that this was a war of self-defense and not an act of deliberate aggression in pursuit of Israeli expansionism and U.S. imperialist aims. There is ample evidence that Egypt was not planning to invade Israel and that the Israeli ruling circles knew it. Some of it is summed up by Fred J. Khouri in his extensive study, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, in these words:

“If the Israeli leaders had really believed that an invasion was imminent and Israel’s survival was at stake, they could easily have precluded any Arab attack by accepting U.N. Secretary-General U Thant’s suggestion that U.N. forces be allowed to take up positions in their territory. By firmly and unhesitatingly rejecting U Thant’s proposals, Israel indicated that she was less interested in thwarting an Egyptian attack than she was in making sure that a U.N. presence did not frustrate her own ability to strike at Egypt at the time of her own choosing” (pp. 281-82).

Israeli spokesmen themselves also admitted that Israel stood in no danger of annihilation, and that the government and the military were fully aware of this. Colonel Matatyahu Peled, who had been Quartermaster-General in the Israeli army in 1967, spelled it out in these words:

“All this talk was made only a few months after the war; it had no part in the complex of considerations of those days—this talk about the horrible danger in which Israel found itself, because of its narrow frontiers. When the Israeli army mobilized its full power, which surpassed that of the Egyptians several times, there was no person possessing any sense who believed that all this force was necessary in order to ‘defend’ ourselves from the Egyptian threat. This force was necessary for dealing the Egyptians a crushing defeat on the battlefield, and to their Russian patrons in the political field. The claim that the Egyptian force which was concentrated on our southern border was capable of threatening Israel’s existence is not only an insult to the intelligence of anyone who is capable of evaluating such matters. It is first of all an insult to the Israeli army” (Haaretz, March 19, 1972).

[Editor’s note: Lumer, and the world, did not know at the time, but Israel also had a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Sinai Peninsula to intimidate Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan during the 1967 war. The “Doomsday Operation” was revealed years later by retired Israeli Brigadier General Itzhak Yaakov, who was in charge of it. Israel won the war so quickly, however, that it didn’t deploy the bomb. Yaakov was arrested for talking about Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the press in 2001.]

Ties with South Africa

Besides its direct collusion with U.S. imperialism, also notorious are the relations of the government of Israel with the ultra-racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Political, economic, and military links between the two have been maintained since 1948 and in recent years have been increased. And this has taken place in the face of nearly universal condemnation of the racist barbarism of South Africa’s white rulers, and despite numerous U.N. resolutions calling for severance of relations with the South African Republic until it ends the policy of apartheid.

South Africa was among the first countries to recognize the State of Israel. In 1953, its prime minister, Dr. D. F. Malan, visited Israel and was cordially received, despite his record of blatant anti-Semitism and wholehearted support of Hitler during World War II. And on Malan’s retirement in 1954, his name was inscribed in the Golden Book as a proven true friend of Israel.

The South African ruling circles initially had only unstinting praise for Israel. This state of affairs lasted until mid-1961 when Israeli policy in relation to other African countries made it expedient to join in the condemnation of apartheid. In the ensuing years, relations cooled considerably. But with the 1967 war, all was forgotten and relationships became closer and more cordial than ever before.

The roots of Israeli-South African relationships go deeper, however, than immediate economic, political, or military interests. They lie in the racist, reactionary character which these two states have in common. The attraction which Israel holds for the racist rulers of South Africa is based on their feeling that Zionism has much in common with apartheid.

Thus, former South African Prime Minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd stated that the Jews “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state” (Rand Daily Mail, November 21, 1961).

South African apartheid government spokesmen repeatedly hailed Israel as constituting, together with the Republic of South Africa, the only barrier to the taking over of Africa by “world communism.”

On their side, the Zionist rulers of Israel are also cognizant of such a community of interests. Today U.S. imperialism, basing itself on countries like South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Portuguese colonies, seeks to draw certain other African countries which are under neo-colonialist domination more closely into their orbit and so to establish a base for counter-revolution throughout Africa. Thus do the Israeli Zionist leaders contribute, together with South Africa, in building a base for U.S. imperialism in Africa.

Brian Bunting, a leader in the South African freedom struggles, appropriately summarizes the situation in these words:

“The Israeli-South African alliance is an alliance of the most reactionary forces in the Afro-Asian world, backed by the forces of imperialism, and designed to hold back the tide of progress, preserve the stronghold of profit and privilege, and perpetuate the exploitation of the oppressed masses in the interests of the tiny handful of racists and monopolists who are holding the world to ransom today. Israel and South Africa are today the two main bastions of imperialism and reaction in the Afro-Asian world. The smashing of the alliance between them must be one of the foremost priorities of progressive mankind today (“The Israeli-South Africa Axis–A Threat to Africa,” Sechaba, April 1970).

Dependent of U.S. imperialism

All of these policies have increasingly isolated Israel in the eyes of world opinion. They have made its future increasingly dependent on U.S. arms and backing, and in return have subordinated Israel in growing measure to the interests of U.S. imperialism.

They have imposed huge arms budgets on Israel which are bankrupting the country financially. And they have led to growing Arab hostility and the ever-present danger of new outbreaks of war.

Such is the disastrous course on which the Zionist ruling circles have placed the Israeli people.

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Hyman Lumer
Hyman Lumer

Dr. Hyman Lumer (1909-76) was a leader on the Jewish left and in the Communist Party USA. He was a scientist and scholar, who held a PhD in biology and served as a professor at Western Reserve University. As a teacher, he helped build the Cleveland teachers' union and was active in the drive to build the CIO in the 1930s. For several years, he served as Educational Director for the Ohio-Kentucky District of the United Electrical Workers. In the 1950s, he was a victim of a McCarthyite frame-up and was imprisoned for a time. Upon release, he became a leader in the CPUSA, serving at various times as editor of Jewish Affairs and Political Affairs.