UK: Why is Owen Jones defending a Nazi collaborator?

22 September 2021 — The Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley

A man with a microphone in front of a TV cameraOwen Jones talking to the press. Pete Maclaine ZUMA Press

Guardian columnist Owen Jones markets himself as a leading leftist voice.

His profile on Twitter, where he has more than one million followers, emphasizes his “anti-fascist” credentials.

Why, then, did he just publish a defense of a Nazi collaborator? An Israeli judge once ruled that Zionist leader Rezső Kasztner was Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann’s “catspaw,” but Jones seems to disagree.

On the blogging platform Medium earlier this month, Jones posted a response to a recent article I wrote for The Electronic Intifada.

My article reported on Jones’ duplicitousness during the fabricated “Labour anti-Semitism crisis,” which helped to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.

It also showed how Jones smeared award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach.

Jones initially endorsed a Labour Party ban on a left-wing group Loach sponsors. He later changed tack, tweeting support for “Britain’s greatest living filmmaker,” before flip-flopping again and apologizing for his supportive tweet.

In his recent post, Jones changes his story yet again, now claiming that “I don’t support proscribing that organization” – Labour Against the Witchhunt.

He states, however, that Labour Against the Witchhunt members should have “disciplinary measures” imposed on them as individuals.

The reason Jones threw Loach under the bus, after previously supporting him, was because of renewed cries of outrage from Israel supporters over a play Loach directed more than three decades ago.

The play, Perdition, tackled the well-documented Zionist policy of collaboration with the Nazis during World War II.

A man reads from a script to an actorKen Loach directing Perdition in 1987. The play’s debut was canceled after a fierce campaign by the Israel lobby. (Diverse Productions/Channel 4)

The facts of the notorious real-life events the play is based on are laid out in my article to which Jones responded.

Oddly, Jones states that most of his post was not written by him. But the co-author remains anonymous, with Jones stating only that it was partly written by “a Jewish anti-Zionist.”

The blog post is actually a whitewash and denial of historical facts about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, as well as an apologia for such collaboration.

“No, Jews did not collaborate in their own genocide,” Jones’ title disingenuously reads, the first of many strawman arguments.

This was not at all what my article claimed.

What it showed was that the Zionist leadership in occupied Hungary in 1944 worked closely with the Nazis, not the Jewish population as a whole.

More specifically, the article focused on the leading role in this collaboration played by Rezső Kasztner, Labor Zionism’s leader in Hungary during the Nazi occupation.

Zionism was a minority trend among Jewish people at the time but the Zionist policy of collaboration played an important role in helping the Nazis exterminate almost half a million Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Kasztner was later a government official, broadcaster and parliamentary candidate in Israel. He was repeatedly accused of collaboration with the Nazis and questioned by Israeli police, before being cajoled into suing a pamphleteer for libel.

Rezső Kasztner speaking on Israeli state radio. Kasztner’s cooperation with Nazi war criminals in his native Hungary caused a national scandal after his actions came under the microscope during a 1954 libel trial in Israel. (Wikimedia Commons)

The pamphleteer had exposed Kasztner’s wartime collaboration with the Nazis.

Kasztner and his backers in the Israeli government sensationally lost the case, with the judge emphatically ruling that Kasztner had not been defamed because he had indeed collaborated with the Nazis at the cost of Jewish lives.

As Judge Benjamin Halevy put it in his 1955 ruling: “The Nazis’ patronage of Kasztner, and their agreement to let him save 600 prominent Jews, were part of the plan to exterminate the Jews.”

The ruling was partly overturned by Israel’s high court a few years later, in a 3-2 decision. This happened because Kasztner’s collaboration reflected the policy of the Zionist movement at the highest level, and the Israeli state could ultimately not convict itself.

But the appeal judges did not contest any of the material facts and in many cases justified Kasztner’s collaboration.

Although Jones and his anonymous co-author claim that Kasztner was “largely powerless in the face of a white supremacist machine,” the Israeli high court disagreed.

The judges were unanimous that Kasztner had in a “criminal and perjurious” manner testified in defense of SS officer Kurt Becher, an accused war criminal, during the Nuremberg trials after the war.

In fact, Kasztner defended several Nazis.

Kasztner’s Nazi collaboration

Was he “powerless” from 1945 to 1947, when the war was over and he traveled to Germany to testify on behalf of senior Nazis?

Clearly not. That was a deliberate act, one Kasztner said he had made with the knowledge and consent of the leaders of the Zionist movement.

Jones habitually fails to acknowledge that Zionism is a political movement – it is not an “identity,” but an ideology.

More specifically, it is a settler-colonial movement backed by imperialist “great powers” – first Britain, today the United States – for the removal of the indigenous Muslim and Christian Palestinian people from Palestine and their replacement with Jewish settlers.

Despite its claims, Zionism has never had any right to speak on behalf of all Jews.

But Jones and his anonymous co-author attempt to muddy the waters. Jones’ post asserts that “the categories ‘anti-Zionist’ and ‘Zionist’ did not necessarily mean exactly the same things” during the Holocaust as they do now.

Yet they fail to prove this or explain why it should matter. It’s irrelevant to the overwhelming evidence that Kasztner and other Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis.

Silencing Jewish survivors

Jones and his co-author try to cast doubt on Kasztner’s record with a series of rhetorical questions about “so-called collaborators.”

They claim that “focusing on ‘collaboration’ can easily serve a right-wing narrative which victim-blames and where members of the oppressed group are deemed ultimately responsible for their own oppression.”

But those most determined to expose Kasztner’s collaboration after the war were Jews who had managed to survive his betrayal that sent so many others to their deaths.

Now Jones – and his anonymous co-author – are disingenuously stepping in to defend the Nazi collaborator from his Jewish victims, while claiming that they are defending Jews.

In a further effort to justify silencing Jewish survivors and victims of the Nazis, Jones and his anonymous co-author question whether the testimonies of Hungarian Jewish survivors who exposed Kasztner’s crimes are “the stories that we on the left really want to be telling.”

In other words, they grotesquely try to market the defense of Nazi collaborators and the silencing of Jewish survivors who exposed them as the proper “left” position.

Holocaust revisionism

In another soft-sell, they misleadingly describe the Nazi collaborator Kasztner as “a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Holocaust, settled in Israel and became involved in Labor Zionist politics.”

But this reverses the chronology: Kasztner was already an influential leader of the Labor Zionist movement in Hungary years before his move to British-occupied Palestine after the war.

Jones and his co-author thus give the impression that Kasztner only later became a Zionist and moved to Israel due to his experiences under the Nazis in Hungary.

In fact, Kasztner was an active Zionist all his adult life, at least as early as 1925, years before the rise to power of the Nazis.

Jones and his anonymous co-author claim that Kasztner was only “accused” of collaboration with the Nazis. They assert that “there is no credible evidence that Kasztner had any agency to save any more Jews.”

This is nothing less than Holocaust revisionism.

They leave out the fact that the Israeli judge in 1955 ruled that Kasztner did indeed actively collaborate.

The trains to Auschwitz

Instead Jones and his co-author claim that if Kasztner had done anything “he did so facing the kinds of moral questions that most of us desperately hope we will never actually have to answer.” In other words, they seem to be saying, who are we to judge?

Let’s consider the record.

“One cannot estimate the damage caused by Kasztner’s collaboration and put down the number of victims which it cost Hungarian Jews,” Judge Halevy wrote.

“These are not only the thousands of Jews in Nodvarod or any other community in the border area, Jews who could escape through the border, had the chief of their rescue committee fulfilled his duty toward them.”

In other words, according to the Israeli judge, Kasztner could have saved countless Jewish lives simply by warning them of the fate he knew awaited them.

Instead, Kasztner remained silent because he made a deal with the Nazis that he would help prevent a rebellion among Hungary’s Jewish masses who were marked for death. In exchange, he would be allowed to handpick a group of prominent Jews and Kasztner family members to leave the country safely on a train.

A large crowd of inmates is directed through a gate by army officersHungarian Jews being sent to the Auschwitz death camp in May or June 1944. The collaboration of Zionist leaders played a key role in helping the Nazis murder almost half a million Jews during the final phase of the Holocaust. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kasztner, however, did not stop at silence. As recounted by Paul Bogdanor – a British Jewish historian who set out to write a book defending Kasztner, but ended up concluding that he was indeed a willing collaborator – Kasztner’s betrayal of Hungarian Jews went much further.

“It was that Kasztner had instructed local Jewish leadership to mislead them, and to deceive them into boarding the trains to Auschwitz,” Bogdanor told The Times of Israel in 2016.

“After Kasztner had visited the local communities, the leadership spread false information – which he had given them – that the Jews were going to be resettled inside Hungary.”

But according to Jones and his co-author, this horrific complicity with the Nazi extermination of Jews was the action of a man making finely balanced moral judgments.

That is not where their whitewashing ends.

Preference given to Zionists

Jones and his co-author take issue with my statement that those who escaped from Hungary on Kasztner’s train were “mostly fellow Zionists.”

But the source for this fact – as previously reported – is Ben Hecht’s 1961 book Perfidy.

Hecht was a right-wing Zionist and a journalist who later became a famous Hollywood scriptwriter and producer. He followed Kasztner’s libel trial closely and quotes from the transcripts extensively.

Decades later, the book is still one of the best sources on the trial, the author’s anti-Palestinian biases notwithstanding.

Hecht explains that with Nazi approval, Kasztner had chosen “388 Jews from [his hometown] Kluj alone. They are the ‘best,’ the most important members of Kluj Jewry – mainly Zionists.”

Hecht is not the only source.

Indeed, Judge Halevy ruled that Kasztner had considered his train “a success for Zionism.”

Another Zionist source agrees.

Andre Biss, who worked with Kasztner in Hungary, writes in his book A Million Jews to Save (as cited by Lenni Brenner in Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, pages 285-6) that “the most numerous group” who boarded the train were “Kasztner’s pride – the Zionist youth.”

A fourth source, the liberal Zionist historian Tom Segev, notes in his book The Seventh Million “the preference given to Zionist leaders in awarding places on the train since these leaders were headed for Palestine.” Segev adds that Israeli high court judge Shimon Agranat described this as “a rational principle.”

Eichmann’s catspaw

Another of the claims in Jones’ post is that the Kasztner train “came to be known as ‘Noah’s Ark’ as it deliberately saved a diverse and fairly representative cross section of the Hungarian Jewish community.”

This attempt to deploy a New Labour-style celebration of diversity and multiculturalism in an effort to whitewash Kasztner’s Nazi collaboration appears to be derived from the Wikipedia page “Kasztner’s train.”

Jones and his co-author leave out one crucial fact: “Noah’s Ark” was Kasztner’s own self-justifying description of the train in his 1946 report to the Zionist Congress.

By omitting this fact, Jones and his anonymous co-author are misleadingly presenting Kasztner’s own self-serving propaganda as if it were a widely held assessment.

They also claim that my article for The Electronic Intifada “overemphasizes Jewish agency” by arguing that a Jewish uprising – or mass escape efforts – in Hungary could have been more successful than the doomed Warsaw Ghetto uprising in Poland the year prior.

As noted, the Israeli judge found that had Kasztner warned the Jews of Hungary what awaited them, many might have escaped.

Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann “did not want a second Warsaw. For this reason, the Nazis exerted themselves to mislead and bribe the Jewish leaders,” Halevy ruled.

“The personality of Rudolph [Rezső] Kasztner made him a convenient catspaw for Eichmann and his clique.”

Three judges sit in an Israeli courtJudge Benjamin Halevy, left, ruled that Kasztner had collaborated with the Nazis. Halevy was later on the three-judge panel that sentenced Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann to death in 1961. (Wikimedia Commons)

The judge certainly believed that resistance and escape were real possibilities. The reality in Hungary in 1944 was quite different from that in Poland in 1943. By 1944, the Nazis were losing the war and the Red Army was advancing from the east.

“Dozens of thousands of Jews were guarded in their ghettos by a few dozen police,” the judge wrote. “Yet even vigorous young Jews made no attempt to overpower these few guards and escape to nearby Romania.”

There were no resistance activities, Halevy stated, as “Jewish leaders did everything in their power to soothe the Jews in the ghettos and to prevent such resistance activities.”

By contrast, it had taken 2,000 heavily armed Nazi troops to crush the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

In 1961, Halevy was one of the three Israeli judges who sentenced Eichmann to death, after he had been captured by the Mossad in Argentina the previous year and put on trial in Jerusalem.

The Zionist movement has since its beginnings shared with anti-Semites the view that European Jews are not really Europeans and are rather Jews who happened to find themselves in Europe.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, infamously predicted that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”

In April 1933, only months after Hitler took power, German Zionist federation chairman Kurt Blumenfeld argued that “there exists today a unique opportunity to win over the Jews of Germany for the Zionist idea.”

Today, Israeli leaders appear just as happy to make common cause with anti-Jewish forces, including Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and extremist pastors like John Hagee. Israel has even armed an explicitly neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine.

Rehabilitating a Nazi collaborator

As Columbia University’s Joseph Massad has explained, “Zionist leaders consciously recognized that state anti-Semitism was essential to their colonial project,” and that their declarations to that effect “were not slips or errors but indeed a long-term strategy that Zionism and Israel continue to deploy.”

Jones and his allegedly “anti-Zionist” anonymous co-author would presumably not defend a Nazi collaborator in any other context.

But it seems they are willing to do so when that collaborator was also a Zionist and when doing so serves Israel’s interests today.

Jones’ post even claims that Kasztner “was involved with various rescue efforts which helped thousands upon thousands of Jews.”

Paul Bogdanor views such efforts to rehabilitate and whitewash Kasztner with contempt.

To claims that Kasztner rescued thousands of Jews, the historian responded in 2016: “All the rescue claims are without substance, whatsoever.”

Bogdanor said that he has met Hungarian Holocaust survivors “who are extremely distressed by the campaign to rehabilitate Kasztner.”

“Kasztner did know that Jews were being exterminated, he knew and he repeatedly admitted it,” Bogdanor added. “His defenders have to say he didn’t know, which is contrary to the facts.”

To the list of defenders of this Nazi collaborator who helped Hitler kill the Jews of Hungary, we can now add The Guardian’s very own Owen Jones.

Additional research by Ali Abunimah.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

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