A leading figure in the hard-left Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) group has been condemned by Holocaust historians after claiming “the Zionists” prevented hundreds of thousands of Jews escaping the Shoah.
The claim, made by Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, was described by historians as “baseless” and “a fantasy”.
Prof Rosenhead, an emeritus professor of operational research at the London School of Economics, was speaking at an event at University College London last week titled “Jeremy Corbyn, antisemitism and justice for Palestine”.
He claimed: “Just before the outbreak of war [World War Two], the United States had organised for hundreds of thousands of Jews to escape from Germany and go – not to the United States, certainly, but to a number of Latin American countries that had agreed to have them.
“And in those last few weeks before the war, the Zionists stopped that from happening. Because a Jew who got out of Germany and didn’t go to Palestine was a Jew lost. And the result was, hundreds of thousands of Jews who would have escaped did not.”
So this would be Jonathan Rosenhead of @JVoiceLabour accusing "Zionists" of being responsible for the murder of "hundreds of thousands of Jews" at a meeting entitled Corbyn, Antisemitism and Justice for Palestine @LabourAgainstAS@email@example.com/tcayaqzJWQ— Hurryupharry (@hurryupharry) May 1, 2018
Professor Tuvia Friling, professor of history at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, described this claim as “absolutely baseless”.
“I have never heard about this kind of suggestion,” he said. “The last and main opportunity to change the American and British immigration policies was in July 1938 at Evian conference.
“The conference was concluded with nothing that could have solved the Jewish refugee’s problem. USA did not change its quotas from the twenties. The UK did not change its White Paper policy in Palestine.
“The only 'practical' venue for the Jews were some limited offers for a few thousands Jews with some occupations from central and south American countries.”
Paul Bogdanor, a researcher who has challenged the myth of Zionist-Nazi "collaboration", said: “Prof Rosenhead's suggestion that ‘the Zionists’ controlled the immigration policies of the Latin American countries before World War Two, or at any other time, relies on myths of Jewish power.
“His fantasy that Zionists were willing and able to block the flight of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Europe relies on stereotypes of Jewish cruelty. Demonising fellow Jews in this way reveals nothing about history but will incite plenty of bigotry.”
Dr Rafael Medoff, director of the David S Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington DC said: "The US government never organised hundreds of thousands of German Jews to go to Latin America, or anywhere else.
“The Dominican Republic offered, in 1938, to admit 100,000 Jewish refugees, but the Roosevelt administration actively discouraged the proposal, because it feared the refugees would use it as a jumping-off point to get into the United States.
“As a result, barely 1,000 European Jews settled in the Sosua region of the Dominican Republic.
"'The Zionists’, as Prof Rosenhead nefariously characterises them, were not some international power with the ability to stop a US initiative to rescue Jews, even if there had been one.
“Nor was there anything unreasonable about Zionist leaders preferring that Jews settle in British Mandatory Palestine, the historic Jewish homeland. Moreover, it was the 1930s, long before anyone could imagine gas chambers and crematoria.
“Nonetheless, it is a fact that many Zionist groups supported settling Jewish refugees temporarily in other parts of the world, in order to get them out of Hitler's reach. To cite just one of many such examples, the Labor Zionists of America promoted a proposal by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes to settle German Jewish refugees in Alaska; unfortunately, President Roosevelt blocked that plan by insisting that no more than 10 per cent of the refugees should be Jews."
During an earlier speech at the same event, Prof Rosenhead had also claimed Israel could be orchestrating antisemitic social media posts which have been attributed to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
“What evidence is there that the Labour Party is so thoroughly infected with antisemitism?” he said.
“Well, we have postings on social media. Undoubtedly there are some very antisemitic ones. Some of them are done by people who say they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
“We don’t know if they are members of the Labour Party. We don’t even know if they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
“If I was the Israeli government, I would be running all sorts of false flag operations getting people to post – and they have hordes of them in Israel doing this sort of stuff on the internet – saying things which would then discredit Jeremy Corbyn.”
The video of Prof Rosenhead's address at the conference was also published on the JVL website.
Prof Rosenhead has been contacted for comment.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: "The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken in line with our procedures."
Prof Rosenhead has submitted the following statement, which we append:
Your article ‘Leading JVL figure blames ‘Zionists’ for deaths of thousands of Jews in Holocaust’ purports to report on a meeting at which I spoke. Your account is misconceived. The Jewish Chronicle seems, outrageously, to imply that I am some sort of Holocaust denier or apologist, and by implication antisemitic. There can be few Jews in the country who have not lost a portion of their family in that great evil, and I am no exception.
Antisemitism is a dire historical fact. But history itself is not antisemitic. The tortured history of Jews and Zionism in the 20th century deserves our attention.
In my impromptu response to a question I did misremember some details. The (disputed) events around possible German Jewish refugee emigration to Latin America did not occur “in the last few weeks” before the outbreak of war. They occurred over a period of a year or more, following the failed 1938 Evian conference on the refugee crisis. The figure of potential refugees was then put at 300,000 or more.
Several Latin American countries (and others) expressed an interest in taking refugees. Zionist leaders vigorously opposed the most hopeful scheme – the Dominican Republic’s offer to take 100,000. In the end, less than 1000 were received. It might have faltered anyhow – history doesn’t provide us with counter-factuals. (See Beit-Zvi’s Post-Ugandan Zionism on Trial.)
Why did the Zionist movement, world-wide, take this stance? The most stark expression is by David Ben Gurion, addressing the Mapai Central Committee meeting in 1938: ''If I knew that it was possible to save all the[Jewish] children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.''
Responsibility for the murder of millions of Jews lies solely with the Nazi regime. There was of course no way for Ben Gurion or other Zionist leaders to know that war and the holocaust would so soon remove all opportunities for rescue.
Your article also targets my observation that the origin of much of the social media abuse claiming to be from Corbyn supporters cannot be verified, because of anonymity. Some avalanches (20, 000 in one hour has been reported) are clearly based on automated ‘bots’ sending repeated messages, not thousands of individuals.
Is there an Israeli involvement in the anonymous postings? The essence of covert operations is that we can rarely be sure. Yossi Alpher’s insider book Periphery details many events in which the Israeli hand was concealed. Israel’s strength in depth in the cyber field is undisputed. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has the mission of pushing back “in creative and innovative ways” against what it sees as strategic threats to Israel. More than that we cannot know.