Meet the Trotskyist anti-Zionist who saw the errors of his ways


Few authors oppose publication of their work. But retired Belgian lawyer Nathan Weinstock has refused any reprint of the book for which he is probably best known here.

His 1969 volume, translated into English as Zionism: False Messiah, became a handbook for campus anti-Zionists who denounced Israel as a colonialist state. But the once Trotskyist author of some 20 history books and translations from Yiddish has recanted.

Now a supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was here in London last weekend, addressing events organised by Harif, the Spiro Ark and the Jewish Museum for the first Jewish Refugee Day – the day established by the Israeli government to commemorate the exodus of nearly 900,000 Jews from Arab lands.

His exit from anti-Zionism began, he explained, when he realised that “I was being exploited and being used, not for the intent I had - which was for a rapprochement and an alliance between left-wing Jews and left-wing Palestinians.”

He felt he had become a “useful idiot” to opponents of Israel who did not listen to what he was saying other than what served their propaganda.

A month before the outbreak of the Six Day War in June 1967, he had addressed a large audience of Arab students in Paris, he recalled. He had brought a message of fraternity from the Israeli revolutionary socialist group Matzpen – “ one of the few Jewish movements in Israel that said that they sympathised with the Palestinian cause. That was something out of the ordinary. They should have been flocking to me to hear more about it.”

But in retrospect, what struck him now was that not a single member of the audience had appeared interested in any alliance with sympathetic Israelis or asked him about it. “They didn’t care a damn,” he said.

For a while, he had kept his evolving views to himself and avoided the subject until his wife pressed him to “become clear”.

His 2002 book in French, Histoire de Chiens (“A Dogs’ Tale”) examined dhimmitude, the protected but second-class status of Jews and Christians in Islamic lands; “dogs” were what Jews had been called in Arab pogroms. In 2004, he documented how “the Arab world lost its Jews” in his book Une Si Longue Presence.

Moved by the stories of former Egyptian Jews he came across in Belgium, he had wanted to learn more about the fate of Jews in North Africa and the Middle East. But when he could not find a general book, he decided to write one himself.

The “enormous tragedy” of the uprooting of Jewish communities from countries in which they had lived in some cases for 2,000 years was not simply a result of Arab reaction to Zionism, he argues; it reflected other causes as well, not least the deeply-rooted pejorative attitude towards them which stemmed from their dhimmi status.

More recently, he has written a study of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel from Roman times to the first Zionist aliyah in the late 19th century, which demonstrates the continuity of Jews’ links to their ancestral home.

Now living in Nice, he speaks immaculate English – born in 1939, his family came here from Belgium and he grew up in Macclesfield during the War.

While it is not unheard of for some ex-Trotskyists to travel all the way to the neo-conservative right, he maintains a moderate stance on Israel.

“I can’t see how you can refuse the Palestinians a state if they want one, they are entitled to it,” he said. “The only alternative one is dominating them, which is worse. On the other hand, I understand the Israeli anxiety when you see what happened to Gaza.”

But he confided that he was “worried by Netanyahu, I must say”.

For Israel, he believed, “the most urgent thing is to create a society where the Arab minority is fully happy and has the impression it can exercise all its civil rights.”

In demonstrating how a democratic society could treat its minorities, he said, Israel could “be a model for Arab world.”

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