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The Australian Left's support for the creation of the State of Israel, 1947-48.

During the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli war (1) virtually the entire international Left--whether social democratic or communist--supported the State of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinian Arabs and neighbouring Arab States. This was quite remarkable given the earlier history of Left ambivalence towards or even outright hostility against the Zionist movement.

To be sure, the Left had always held a range of perspectives on Zionism. Prior to World War I, there was virtually unanimous opposition to Zionism reflecting the Left's hostility to any form of distinctive Jewish national or group identity. Most Marxists viewed Jewish nationalism as a reactionary idea designed to divert the Jewish masses from the class struggle. Instead, they proposed the complete assimilation of Jews in a classless society as the solution to anti-Semitism. (2)

The post-1917 split between Communists and social democrats led to conflicting positions. Many social democrats endorsed the aim of the Zionist movement to create a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. A number of leading social democrats including Camille Huysmans, George Lansbury, Jean Longuet, Leon Blum, H.N. Brailsford and Emile Vandervelde established a Socialist 'Pro-Palestine Committee' under the auspices of the international Labor Zionist confederation. (3)

The British Labour Party was particularly sympathetic to the aims of the Zionist movement. As early as August 1917, they committed themselves to a Jewish State in Palestine. Numerous Labour MPs including Ramsay McDonald, Arthur Henderson, Herbert Morrison and Josiah Wedgewood visited Palestine, and were impressed by Zionist activities. The labor Zionist group Poale Zion also enjoyed considerable influence within party forums. (4)

Later, in 1944, the British Labour Party conference voted for the admission of Jews to Palestine "in such numbers as to become a majority". The motion, principally drafted by leading Party figure Hugh Dalton, stated that 'There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe'. The Party also recommended the 'transfer' of the Arab population to neighbouring countries, suggesting that 'the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in'. (5)

This explicitly pro-Zionist position was never implemented. Due to a range of pragmatic military and foreign policy considerations, the British Labour Government from 1945-48 displayed overwhelming hostility to the Zionist campaign for a Jewish State in Palestine. However, the Party leadership was constantly challenged by leftwing MPs and intellectuals such as Harold Laski, Richard Crossman, Woodrow Wyatt, Nye Bevan, and Michael Foot who fought for the Party's traditional proZionist objectives. (6) This passionate left-wing support for Israel was also reflected in most other western social democratic parties which were impressed by the activities of the Histradut, the General Federation of Jewish Labour, and the co-operative agricultural settlements--the kibbutzim and the moshavim. (7) This pro-Israel perspective would become hegemonic within the Socialist International over the following two decades. (8)

By contrast, the Soviet Union and the Communist International had consistently opposed Zionism on ideological grounds. The Comintern openly favoured the objectives of the Palestinian Arab national movement, and dismissed Zionism as a counter-revolutionary tool of British imperialism. The 1929 Arab massacres of Jewish civilians in Hebron and elsewhere were described as a revolutionary attack on British and Zionist imperialism, and strong support was given to the 1936 Arab revolt against British rule. (9)

The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent anti-fascist alliance provoked some changes in the traditional communist approach to Zionism. The tragedy of the Holocaust forced some re-consideration of the traditional Marxist belief that the solution to anti-Semitism could only be found via individual assimilation rather than on a wider national basis. A number of Soviet statements during and immediately following the war suggested support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine for all Jews who wished to immigrate there. But equally, the Soviet attitude continued to be clouded by considerable ambiguity and contradictions, and a number of other Soviet statements at the United Nations and elsewhere supported Arab political demands. (10)

Finally, in May 1947, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, expressed unqualified support for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab State. (11) In a passionate speech that broke completely with traditional communist views, Gromyko emphasized the significance of Jewish oppression, the experience of 'almost complete physical annihilation' during the Holocaust, and the continuing plight of the survivors who had lost their homes and livelihood. (12)

Gromyko argued that
   Past experience, especially in World War II, has shown that no
   nation in Western Europe was able to extend the required help to
   the Jewish people in defending its rights and its physical survival
   against the violent deeds of the Hitlerites and their allies. This
   is a grave fact. But unfortunately it is impossible not to admit
   its truth. It explains the aspirations of the Jews to create their
   own state. It will be unjust if we ignore this aspiration and deny
   the Jewish people the right to realize it. (13)

Gromyko expressed a preference for a bi-national Arab-Jewish State, but added that if 'such a solution proves unworkable because of the deteriorated relations between the Jews and the Arabs, it will be necessary to examine a second solution ... namely, the partition of the country into two independent autonomous states, a Jewish one and an Arab one'. (14)

The Soviet Union and its allies voted in favour of United Nations Resolution 181 (tabled on 29 November 1947) which called for the partition of Palestine into two sovereign states, one Jewish, the other Arab. Subsequently they strongly supported the creation of the State of Israel and its war of independence. This included vigorous diplomatic support whereby the Soviet Union defended Israel's right to self-defence in United Nations debates, and condemned the 'armed aggression' directed against the Jewish state. They also defended Israel's right to retain strategically significant territory such as the Negev region captured in the war, and rejected any Israeli responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem. (15) In addition, the Soviet Union provided, via Czechoslovakia, badly-needed military supplies and the training of pilots and paratroopers which contributed significantly to Israel's military victories. (16)

All international communist parties also supported this position including those in the Arab world. Israel was described by the US Communist Party as 'an organic part of the world struggle for peace and democracy' based on a 'struggle against British and Anglo-American imperialist domination'. (17) The Party proudly boasted that 'Communists generally have played a very important part in the emergence of the Jewish State at this time, and that the American Communists have made serious contributions to the struggle for Israel'. (18)

The French Communist Party called the Haganah (the Israeli army) comrades-in-arms of the Chinese Communists, the Viet Cong, the Greek partisans, and the Spanish republicans, all seen as engaged in just wars of national independence against British and US-sponsored imperialism. (19) Plans were even made (but subsequently abandoned) for a Communist-led international pro-Zionist brigade to defend Israel, although several thousand volunteers--mainly Jews but including a number of left-wing non-Jews--joined the Israeli army. (20)

The actual Soviet motives for this astonishing turn-around have been a source of continuing debate. One key objective was to promote an early withdrawal of the British from Palestine, and the Soviet Union appears to have concluded that the Palestinian Jews (rather than the anti-communist Arabs) were more likely to succeed in ending British rule. A related objective was to provoke conflict in Palestine and hence unrest throughout the Arab world which would serve to undermine British imperial interests in the Middle East. The Soviet Union was also disappointed by the anti-communist stand of the existing Arab governments despite Soviet support for their national independence. Conversely, there is some evidence that the Soviet Union believed (as a result of assurances and commitments by prominent individual Left Zionists) that a future Jewish Government would be dominated by leftists, and sympathetic to Soviet foreign policy objectives. (21) The Soviet-Israeli romance quickly cooled after 1949, but that is another story.

The only significant Left criticism of Israel in 1947-48 emanated from the Jewish Labour Bund which had always rejected Zionism on ideological and practical grounds. The Bund had been a major political force in Poland between the two world wars, but its mass Polish Jewish working class support base had been decimated by the Holocaust. However, the Bund opposed the creation of Israel, claiming that it was designed to serve the imperialistic interests of the Western powers, and would only perpetuate the conflict between Jews and Arabs. Instead, they proposed a binational state based on Jewish-Arab equality and cooperation. (22)

However, the Bund was no longer a major player in Jewish or Left politics, and few on the Left shared their scepticism. Most were influenced by sympathy for the Jews emanating from the Holocaust into supporting the Israeli struggle. There was little interest in Palestinian Arab national concerns or aspirations. Kelemen, writing about the British Labour Party and the British Communist Party, noted that the Palestinian refugee tragedy was generally blamed on the Arab states rejection of the partition plan and their invasion of Israel. There was only minimal humanitarian concern for the Palestinian refugees. (23)

There seems to have been little attempt by Arab states or Palestinians--most of whom were strongly anti-communist--to influence the international Left. One minor exception to this rule was the United Kingdom Committee for Arab Affairs (CAA) which was funded by representatives of the Saudi, Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian governments to lobby a broad range of UK politicians and the media. This group achieved some influence within the Labour Party and was chaired from 1945 onwards by Richard Stokes, the Labour MP for Ipswich. But the CAA seems to have received its core support from political conservatives who were often anti-Jewish as well as anti-Zionist. (24)

The Australian Left and the 1947-48 Conflict

The Australian Left was almost universally supportive of Israel during the 1947-48 conflict. This support came from three sources: the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), Ben Chifley's Australian Labor Party government, and the left-wing Jewish Council To Combat Fascism And Anti-Semitism which also arguably exerted a key influence on other Australian Left groups. In contrast, there does not appear to have been any Australian Palestinian or Arab political movement or media outlet which presented a view to the contrary. (25)

The CPA historically shared the anti-Zionism of the international communist movement. But as early as 1945, Victorian CPA leader Ralph Gibson declared the Party's support for the free right of the Jews to enter 'their historical homeland' of Palestine, and the right of the Jews to found the 'national home' they had been promised. Gibson qualified this support by emphasizing that Palestine alone could not solve the problems of the Jewish people. (26) Similarly, leading Communist trade union leader Ernest Thornton voted in favour of a resolution at the February 1945 World Trade Union Congress in London calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Thornton stated that he supported the resolution because it 'faced the fact that there were hundreds of thousands of Jews in

Palestine'. But he also clarified that he was not 'a convert to Zionism', and added some ideological criticisms of the allegedly 'anti-Soviet and anti-Communist practices' of the Histadruth labour movement in Palestine. (27)

An associated article by a leading British Jewish Communist in the CPA's theoretical journal, Communist Review, expressed similar sentiments. The contributor argued that whilst communists had reservations about Zionist ideology, the Jewish community in Palestine had played a progressive role in the struggle against fascism, and were entitled to national rights including unlimited immigration. (28)

The CPA welcomed the United Nations decision to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947, stating that they 'rejoice with the Jewish people in the decision of the United Nations which opens up the possibility of a new future for the Jews in Palestine. (29) The CPA also consistently supported Israel during the war. A pamphlet written by Ralph Gibson equated the Jewish struggle in Palestine with similar anti-imperialist struggles in China, Vietnam and Greece. He denied that there was any explicit conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and claimed that the Palestinian Arabs who 'outnumber the Jews by two to one could not be incited to violence against them on any large scale. The present war on the Jews is being waged by kings from outside the country'. He attacked the British imperialists and the Arab reactionaries for their 'barbarous attacks' on the new state of Israel, and demanded that the Australian Government immediately recognise Israel. (30)

The CPA newspaper, Tribune, also published numerous articles supporting Israel. The paper constructed the war as a brave Israeli 'David' backed by the Soviet Union and all supporters of freedom confronting a conservative Arab 'Goliath' supported by British and US imperialists and oil companies. For example, Tribune published a letter by ten prominent left-wing Australians including Doris Blackburn, Brian Fitzpatrick, Leslie Haylen and Nettie Palmer defending the UN decision to partition Palestine into two states, and condemning 'pro-fascist Arab leaders' such as the former Mufti of Jerusalem who had 'actively collaborated with Hitler during the last war'. The letter, which was almost certainly organised by the Jewish Council To Combat Fascism And Anti-Semitism, questioned the disproportionate media attention given to the anti-British terrorism campaign conducted by the extreme right-wing Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Stern gang. Instead, they urged Australians to support the UN partition decision which 'shows a proper understanding of the sufferings which the Jewish people have undergone'. (31)

Tribune soundly condemned what it called the 'Arab invasion of Palestine' initiated in collusion with Western imperialism, and urged international action to defend the Jewish state. (32) Reference was made to 'British tanks, guns, armoured cars and rifles supplied to the Arabs under treaties negotiated by British Foreign Minister Bevin being used in fierce assaults on Jewish towns and settlements whose people seek only independence and peace'. (33) At the conclusion of the war, Tribune praised the establishment of diplomatic and cultural relations between the Soviet Union and Israel. (34)

Little concern was expressed by the CPA about the undermining of the national aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs and the emergence of the Palestinian refugee tragedy during the war. The only brief reference to their presence was contained in the letter by the ten prominent Australians which suggested obliquely that 'we have not heard any expression of opinion from the mass of the Arab people of Palestine with whom the Jewish people of Palestine have been able to live in peace, and we do not know of any evidence that most members of the Palestine community are unwilling to co-operate in the development of their common homeland'. (35)

Many others on the Australian Left shared the CPA's pro-Israel sympathies. The prominent journalist Wilfred Burchett praised the pro-Zionist British officer Orde Wingate, and equated the Jewish struggle for independence in Palestine with that of the Spanish Republicans against the common fascist enemy. (36) The left-wing feminist Jessie Street was a passionate supporter of the campaign for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Other active members of the pro-Zionist Australian Palestine Committees included the NSW Labor Premier William McKell, NSW Labor MP Carlo Lazzarini, and the ACTU President Percy James Clarey. (37)

The most significant support for Israel came from the federal Labor Party. As early as December 1943, the national ALP Conference had expressed its support for 'the continued growth of the Jewish national home in Palestine by immigration and settlement'. (38) Yet consecutive Labor Prime Ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley were not openly sympathetic to Zionist objectives, and appear to have been significantly influenced by the position of the British Labour Government. (39)

But Australian foreign policy was to be dominated in 1947-48 by the pro-Zionist Minister for External Affairs, Dr Herbert Evatt. To be sure, not all historians agree that Evatt was always consistent or sincere in his pro-Israel approach. One commentator even argued that Evatt was actually anti-Zionist and pro-Arab. (40) But the evidence suggests that Evatt played a key role in influencing the United Nations debates on Palestine in a pro-partition direction. Evatt appears to have told Jewish audiences in both March 1946 (publicly) and March 1947 (privately) that he would support the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. (41)

Evatt's role in the later United Nations debate appears to have been crucial on two counts. Firstly, the Australian delegation to the United Nations successfully moved in May 1947 a motion for the establishment of a committee of enquiry called the United Nations Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to investigate the issue of Palestine. This Committee voted via a majority in favour of partition, and had a significant influence on the later UN assembly vote in favour of partition. Secondly, Evatt chaired the Ad Hoc Committee which the Assembly appointed to develop recommendations on Palestine. A majority from this Committee also supported partition. Evatt later opposed the Bernadotte Plan (authored by Count Folke Bernadotte, the United Nations special mediator for Palestine) which sought to pressure Israel to cede the strategically significant Negev region, and strongly advocated Israel's admission to the United Nations. However, he disappointed the Israelis when he demanded the internationalisation of Jerusalem given their intention to hold onto West Jerusalem which they had captured in the war. (42)

There has been some conjecture about the factors which drove Evatt's pro-Israel position. There is no doubt that some Australian Jews lobbied Evatt from 1942 onwards. For example, a group from the Jewish Advisory Board of NSW met with Evatt in late 1943 to urge his support for the Zionist cause. Evatt appears to have promised his support 'when the time comes'. (43)

Evatt subsequently developed an ongoing friendship with Max Freilich, President of the State Zionist Council of NSW, and agreed to appoint Abram Landa, a prominent Australian Jew and Labor member of the NSW Parliament, as an observer to the official Australian delegation to the United Nations Assembly. Landa appears to have effectively used this strategically important posting to reinforce Evatt's pro-partition position. Following the UN partition vote, the Zionist Federation of Australia held a dinner to thank Dr Evatt for his support and friendship. (44) Evatt would take advantage of Jewish gratitude for his support by assuming control of the distribution of funds raised by Jewish supporters--including some leading NSW Zionists--for the ALP. This role would almost certainly have strengthened his position in the Party. (45) But despite one suggestion to the contrary, (46) there does not appear to have been anything improper about this process.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the Jewish community's advocacy played an important role in determining Australia's pro-partition position. This was particularly the case given the absence of any counter viewpoint or advocacy from Australian Arabs. (47) It is, however, debatable whether this influence was decisive given that Evatt was influenced by a range of motivations and pressures. Pro-Israel campaigns appear to have had no influence whatsoever when Evatt chose to support the internationalisation of Jerusalem in 1949. Evatt's position on that issue appears to have been determined by significant pressure from the numerically much larger Catholic lobby which had greater impact than the Jews within the ALP in the context of that year's federal election. (48)

Evatt himself attributed his pro-partition views to his knowledge of Jewish suffering. He later wrote that 'the merciless persecution inflicted on the Jews by the Germans under Hitler had aroused a feeling of deep compassion for the Jews, which in itself was quite consistent with and strengthened the desire for a speedy settlement of the Palestine question'. (49) His biographer Kylie Tennant added that the Holocaust had convinced Evatt that the Jews must have a place of national sanctuary. (50)

The Key Role of the Melbourne Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism

The most significant Australian Jewish left group was the Melbourne Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, a broad-based organisation established in 1942 by a coalition of social democrats, communists and liberals (both immigrant and Anglo-Australian Jews) determined to take a public stand against anti-Semitism. In spite of its overt left-wing sympathies, the Council was a highly influential, if not dominant organization in the Melbourne Jewish community of the immediate postwar years, acting as the official public relations representative of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (VJBD). This meant that the Council took control of all action pertaining to anti-Semitism, communal relations, and political activity undertaken by the Board. The Council was also responsible for the public relations activities of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) whenever that body was based in Victoria. (51) The VJBD and the ECAJ were the respective peak roof bodies of Victorian and Australian Jewry.

A number of the leading members of the Council such as Norman Rothfield, Sam Goldbloom, Judah Waten and Sam Cohen were prominent in broader left-wing activities, and the Council would later be accused of acting as a 'Communist front' group during the Cold War. This allegation had some merit given the Council's denial of blatant manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, but it was also strongly linked to the Cold War politics of that period. (52) What is significant for our study is that the Council enjoyed good relations with the Labor Party, the peace movement, the union movement, and the Communist Party. Its advocacy for Israel appears to have exerted a key influence on left-wing groups during the 1947-48 war.

As early as 1945, the Council expressed its support for a Jewish national home in Palestine. A pamphlet by Evelyn Rothfield, the information officer of the Jewish Council, called for free Jewish immigration into Palestine, and the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth. (53) A further pamphlet issued by the Council in March 1947 titled Whither Palestine was issued with a supportive foreword by the Victorian Labor Government Attorney General William Slater. This pamphlet firmly attacked the British White Paper on immigration, defended the right of the large number of homeless and displaced Jews to enter Palestine, and attributed Arab-Jewish conflict to the malign influence of exploitative Arab landowners, and the extremist Mufti of Jerusalem who had collaborated with the Nazis. The pamphlet denied that there was any fundamental antagonism between Jews and Arabs, and called for Arab-Jewish friendship and cooperation in an independent Palestine. (54)

The Council strongly supported the creation of Israel in 1948, and played a key role in promoting public sympathy for the fledgling state. The Council established a joint committee with representatives from the politically diverse Zionist Federation of Australia, Kadimah Cultural Centre and the CPA-aligned Jewish Progressive Centre to organize pro-Israel broadcasts, newspaper articles and other publications, and public addresses. Young people and churches were specifically targeted. For example, the Council organized a 'mass rally for youth to support the Yishuv (Jewish community) in Israel in its struggle for freedom and independence'. This rally was addressed by Presbyterian Minister and peace activist Reverend Alfred Dickie, Council President Norman Rothfield, and Building Workers Industrial Union Organizer (and brother of Wilfred) Clive Burchett. In addition, the Council organised a mass Jewish rally to demonstrate the Australian Jewish community's solidarity with Israel. (55)

The Council also distributed 25,000 copies of a pro-Israel pamphlet, Israel Reborn. The pamphlet argued that the only Arabs who opposed partition were the feudal landlords and chieftains from surrounding countries who 'fear the progress and enlightenment which the Jews have brought to the Middle East'. These war lords were allegedly not representative of the broader mass of Palestinian Arab peasants, workers and middle classes. According to the pamphlet, 'Arabs in Palestine have displayed little enthusiasm for the war. Many of them, to escape fighting, have tried to leave the country ... The fact is that the large mass of Arabs inside Palestine have little quarrel with their Jewish neighbours'. (56)

The Council organized a petition in favour of immediate Australian recognition of Israel which was signed by twenty four prominent left-wing figures including leading civil libertarian Brian Fitzpatrick; ALP figures Jim Cairns, William Slater, Doris Blackburn and Frank Crean; historian Manning Clark; church leaders such as Reverend Alfred Dickie; and a number of union leaders including Clarrie O'Shea and Jim Healy. The petition attacked the Arab invasion of Israel, stating that 'those Arabs who have attacked the Jewish State are not Palestinians, but outsiders led by rulers from neighbouring countries. They have attempted to prevent the establishment, not only of the Jewish State, but of an independent Arab State in Palestine as well. They seek to divide the country of Palestine amongst themselves'. (57) The Council distributed 55,000 copies of a brief pamphlet based on this petition.

The Council's pro-Israel publications were widely endorsed on the Australian Left. For example, the CPA enthusiastically promoted Evelyn Rothfield's pamphlet, Whither Palestine, citing particularly her discussion of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, and the harsh refusal of the British to allow the survivors to find refuge in Palestine. (58)

There seems to have been little if any Australian Left sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs. A veteran Australian communist recalls that the war was narrowly constructed as a fight between Israel and British imperialism, rather than as a Jewish-Arab conflict: 'The Palestinians? They had been, early on, totally defeated, were now being expelled or were leaving. We lefties, to our shame, almost ignored their plight. For us, the Left, the invading Arab armies, even the Palestinian fighters, were but British puppets, colonial troops, fighting to maintain endangered parts of the failing empire'. (59)

There was little if any reference on the Left to the key concerns of the Palestinian narrative: that the Palestinians were unfairly being asked to compensate the Jews for crimes committed in Europe; that rising Jewish immigration was viewed as an aggressive invasion by foreigners; and that the Palestinians genuinely feared that the creation of a Jewish State would lead to their dispossession and exile. Nor was there any discussion of the more than half a million Palestinian refugees who either fled or were directly expelled from the new state of Israel. (60) To be sure, most of the Western world at that time accepted the Israeli argument that the Palestinian had left voluntarily at the behest of their own leaders, and were hence responsible for their own exodus. (61)

Anti-Zionist or pro-Arab viewpoints in Australia appear to have emanated almost exclusively from the conservative parties or far Right. For example, the Liberal and Country Parties opposed the establishment of the State of Israel as undermining the strength of the British Empire. The Deputy Leader of the Country Party, John McEwen, alleged that the partition motion was the result of 'political pressure by the American Jews who exercise tremendous political power in the United States', and argued that the Arab States were being driven into the arms of the Soviet Union. (62) Similarly, the conservative Catholic press was virulently critical of Zionism for its alleged association with Communism. (63)

Populist right-wing publications such as Smith's Weekly and The Bulletin used inflammatory language attacking Australian Jews for allegedly raising funds to support anti-British terrorism in Palestine. (64) The anti-Semitic League of Rights condemned the alleged association of Australian Zionists with anti-British terrorism in Palestine, and argued that international Zionism and international Communism shared a common objective to destroy the British Empire. (65) There was also a small number of ultra-conservative anti-Zionist Jews such as the former Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs associated with the journal, Australian Jewish Outlook, who defined their Judaism in strictly religious rather than national terms, and expressed an unqualified loyalty to the British Empire. (66)


The overwhelming pro-Israel position of the Australian Left during the 1947-48 conflict was not surprising given that these views conformed to those of most of the international Left. The key factors which influenced the Australian Left's pro-Israel position also appear to have been similar to their international colleagues.

An arguably dominant factor was the humanitarian concern based on the Nazi Holocaust which convinced most on the Left to support a Jewish state as the principal refuge for the Jewish survivors of racist persecution. This view, which had been most forcefully promulgated by the Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, was shared by many key Australian progressives.

An associated factor was the tendency of most on the Left to construct the British-aligned Arab states as the powerful and illegal aggressors acting in defiance of the United Nations partition resolution, and the Jews as the relatively weaker group acting in justifiable self-defence. The rights and concerns of the Palestinian Arabs were almost totally ignored in this context. In addition, Left attitudes may have been influenced by the positive profile of the Jewish labour movement and collectivist settlements in Palestine, and conversely the relative absence of Palestinian trade unions and worker protections.

Pro-Israel advocacy groups were another important factor. The Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism was widely respected on the Australian Left, and provided articulate left-wing arguments in favour of the State of Israel. It is almost certain that the CPA and other left-wing groups would have followed the Soviet Union's pro-Israel stand anyway, but the Council's publications and propaganda clearly helped them to justify their position. The Zionist movement's specific lobbying of Dr Evatt was also very significant in confirming Evatt's pro-Israel sentiments. Otherwise the Australian Government may have passively followed the anti-Zionist lead of their colleagues in the British Labour government.

Conversely, there does not appear to have been any Arab community newspapers at this time presenting the Palestinian viewpoint, or any attempt by local Arab groups to present counter arguments to the Australian Left. Such arguments are unlikely to have altered the predominant pro-Israel climate, but may have contributed to a more balanced discussion that considered Palestinian as well as Jewish concerns.

Sixty years later, attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have moved at least partly in the opposite direction. Today, Israel is more often constructed as the stronger party (the Goliath), and the Palestinians are portrayed as the weaker group (the David). To be sure, most on the Australian Left still support in principle Israel's existence, but a passionate and vocal minority openly seek a reversal of the events of 1948, and the creation of an Arab State of Palestine in place of Israel. (67)

For example, two local academics recently formed a committee calling for the dismantling of Zionism, and the end of Israel as a Jewish state. They argued that their viewpoint should be endorsed by all left-wing Australians. (68) Their lack of interest in or concern for the rights of Israeli Jews ironically parallels the Australian Left's disinterest in the rights of Palestinian Arabs in 1947-48.


* I am grateful to the two anonymous Labour History referees for their constructivesuggestions.

(1.) Israeli historian Benny Morris refers to two wars: the civil war between the Jews and Arabs inside Palestine from November 1947-May 1948, and the conventional war between Israel and the invading Arab states from May 1948-January 1949. See his book 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008.

(2.) Robert Wistrich, 'Marxism and Jewish nationalism: the theoretical roots of confrontation', in Robert Wistrich (ed.), The Left Against Zion, Valentine Mitchell, London, 1979, pp. 1-15.

(3.) Ibid., pp. 11-12.

(4.) John Chiddick, 'Palestine, anti-colonialism and social democracy: the case of the British Labour Party', Australian Political Science Association Conference Proceedings, Brisbane, 2002, p. 1; Paul Kelemen, 'Zionism and the British Labour Party', Social History, vol. 21, no. 1, 1996, pp. 71-87; Paul Kelemen, 'Looking the other way: the British Labour Party, Zionism and the Palestinians', in Christine Collette and Stephen Bird (eds), Jews, Labour and the Left, 1918-48, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, pp. 141-157.

(5.) Joseph Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917-1948, Frank Cass, London, 1983, pp. 178-179; Solomon Levenberg, The Jews and Palestine, Poale Zion, London, 1945, pp. 213-214.

(6.) Gorny, The British Labour Movement, pp. 226-227 & 238; David Cesarani, Arthur Koestler, London, William Heinemann, 1998, pp. 264-265.

(7.) See, for example, the positive report by the Austrian socialist leader Julius Braunthal following his visit to Palestine in 1938. See In Search of the Millenium, Victor Gollancz, London, 1945, pp. 298-314.

(8.) Julius Braunthal, The Significance of Israeli Socialism and the Arab-Israeli Dispute, Lincolns-Prager, London, 1958; Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Controversy of Zion, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, p. 239.

(9.) Jacob Hen-Tov, 'The Comintern and Zionism', Unpublished PhD thesis, Brandeis University, 1969.

(10.) Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, Beacon Press, Boston, 1976, pp. 196-200; Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-53, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1974, pp. 11-14; Benjamin Pinkus and Jonathan Frankel, The Soviet Government and the Jews 1948-1967, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, pp. 229-232; Laurent Rucker, Moscow's Surprise: The Soviet-Israeli Alliance of 1947-1949, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 2005.

(11.) Rucker argues that the Soviet decision to support partition had actually been made as early as April 1947. He also notes that Gromyko's speech obliged all Communist Parties including the Australian Party to also support partition. See Moscow's Surprise, pp. 18-19 & 24-26.

(12.) Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 203-204.

(13.) Yaacov Ro'i, From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1974, pp. 38-41.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 231-232; Ro'i, From Encroachment, pp. 54-63; Yaacov Ro'i, Soviet Decision Making in Practice: The USSR and Israel 1947-1954, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, 1980, pp. 139-161 & 231-281; Rucker, Moscow's Surprise, pp. 33-34.

(16.) Rucker, Moscow's Surprise, pp. 26-27.

(17.) Alexander Bittelman, 'The new State of Israel', Political Affairs, August, 1948, p. 723.

(18.) Ibid., p. 720.

(19.) William Cohen and Irwin Wall, 'French communism and the Jews', in Frances Malino (ed.), The Jews in Modern France, Brandeis University Press, London, 1985, pp. 89-90; Michael Winock, Nationalism, Anti-Semitism and Fascism in France, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2000, p. 147.

(20.) Benny Morris, 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War, p. 403; Francis Ofner, 'Pro-Soviet Zionist force losing appeal', Christian Science Monitor, 21 April 1948, p. 8; Colin Shindler, A History of Modern Israel, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 59.

(21.) Rami Ginat, 'Soviet policy towards the Arab world', Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 32, no. 4, 1996, pp. 330-332; Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship, pp. 34-40.

(22.) Yosef Gorny, Converging Alternatives: The Bund and the Zionist Labor Movement, 1897-1985, State University of New York Press, New York, 2006, p. 211; Emanuel Scherer, 'The Bund', in Basil Vlavianos and Feliks Gross (eds), Struggle For Tomorrow: Modern Political Ideologies of the Jewish People, Arts Incorporated, New York, 1954, pp. 155-178.

(23.) Kelemen, 'Looking the other way', pp. 152-153. Paul Kelemen, 'British communists and the Palestine conflict, 1929-1948', Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, 2006, pp. 131-153. See also Chiddick, 'Palestine, anti-colonialism and social democracy', p. 2.

(24.) Rory Miller, Divided Against Zion: Anti-Zionist Opposition in Britain to a Jewish State in Palestine 1945-1948, Frank Cass, London, 2000, pp. 184 & 250.

(25.) The first documented activism by Australian Arabs concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears to have occurred shortly after the 1967 Six Day War. See Philip Mendes, The New Left, the Jews and the Vietnam War 1965-1972, Lazare Press, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 112-113.

(26.) Ralph Gibson, 'Communists discuss problems of the Jewish People', The Voice, August 1945.

(27.) Ernest Thornton, 'Palestine resolution and the World Trade Union Congress', The Voice, July 1945, p. 4. Thornton's views are also discussed in Rodney Gouttman, 'The Communist Party of Australia and the Jewish problem 1933-1953', Menorah, vol. 2, no. 2, December 1988, p. 73.

(28.) Lazar Zaidman, 'Jews and Arabs in Palestine', Communist Review, November 1945.

(29.) See 'Message from Ralph Gibson of the Victorian State Committee of the CPA to the Jewish people', Tribune, 19 November 1947.

(30.) Ralph Gibson, War in Palestine, International Bookshop, Melbourne, 1948. Many years later Gibson would revise some of his earlier opinions. See Ralph Gibson, The Fight Goes On, Red Rooster Press, Melbourne, 1987.

(31.) Doris Blackburn and nine others, 'Terrorism not main factor in Palestine', Tribune, 13 March 1948, p. 5. The Irgun and Stern Gang were hardline Zionist groups which conducted terrorist activities against the British and the Palestinian Arabs.

(32.) 'Oil is key to Palestine sellout', Tribune, 14 April 1948; 'Emir's deal with UK', Tribune, 21 April 1948, p. 2; 'UNO must safeguard Palestine', Tribune, 15 May 1948, p. 2; 'Imperialists hamstrung United Nations move for Palestine peace', Tribune, 19 May 1948, p. 1; 'British retain Palestine grip', Tribune, 2 June 1948, p. 1.

(33.) 'No Palestine peace while Bevin stays', Tribune, 26 May 1948, p. 1.

(34.) 'Israel's big welcome to Soviet Minister', Tribune, 2 October 1948.

(35.) Blackburn et al, 'Terrorism not main factor'.

(36.) 'Who is Wingate anyway?' in George Burchett and Nick Shimmin (eds), Rebel Journalism: The Writings of Wilfred Burchett, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pp. 17-19.

(37.) Suzanne Rutland, 'The Jewish Connection', in Heather Radi (ed.), Jessie Street Documents and Essays, Women's Redress Press, Sydney, 1990, pp. 147-149.

(38.) Patrick Weller and Beverly Lloyd (eds), Federal Executive Minutes 1915-1955: minutes of the meetings of the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978, p. 267.

(39.) Rodney Gouttman, 'First principles: H.V. Evatt and the Jewish homeland', in W.D. Rubinstein (ed.), Jews in the Sixth Continent, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, p. 274; Chanan Reich, Australia and Israel, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2002, p. 20.

(40.) See Howard Adelman, 'Australia and the birth of Israel: midwife or abortionist?', Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 38, no. 3, 1992, pp. 354-74. Some of the key criticisms of Evatt are discussed in Reich, Australia and Israel, pp. 17-18. Reich effectively refutes these assertions, and presents updated evidence based on archival research to demonstrate that Evatt was strongly pro-Zionist from 1943 onwards. Daniel Mandel, H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, Frank Cass, London, 2004, pp. 97-102 also rejects the substance of Adelman's argument.

(41.) Gouttman, 'First principles', pp. 270-276; Reich, Australia and Israel, p. 21.

(42.) Ken Buckley, Barbara Dale and Wayne Reynolds, Doc Evatt, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 311-312; Gouttman, 'First principles', pp. 262-302; Reich, Australia and Israel, pp. 21-25 & 39-45; Suzanne Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, Brandl and Schlesinger, Rose Bay, 2001, pp. 313-316.

(43.) Max Freilich, Zion in our Time, Morgan Publications, Sydney, 1967, p. 114.

(44.) Ibid., pp. 114-115, 144, 188-192, 198-199; Max Freilich, 'The controversial Herbert Vere Evatt', The Bridge, February 1972, pp. 45-48; Gouttman, 'First principles', pp. 266 & 279.

(45.) Mandel, H.V. Evatt, p. 273; Reich, Australia and Israel, p. 18; Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, p. 313.

(46.) Caroline Graham, 'The Labor Party and the founding of Israel', Arena, no. 94, 1991, pp. 32-33.

(47.) Gouttman, 'First principles', p. 271.

(48.) Ken Buckley et al, Doc Evatt, p. 313.

(49.) Herbert Evatt, The Task of Nations, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1949, p. 163.

(50.) Kylie Tennant, Evatt, Politics and Justice, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1970, p. 218.

(51.) Philip Mendes, 'Jews and the Left', in Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Philip Mendes (eds), Jews and Australian Politics, Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2004, pp. 72-73.

(52.) Ibid., pp. 73-74.

(53.) Evelyn Rothfield, The Jewish People, RAAF Educational Services, Melbourne, 1945, pp. 44-47.

(54.) Evelyn Rothfield, Whither Palestine, Dolphin, Melbourne, 1947. See also Rabbi Dr H.M. Sanger, This Is Our Story, Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, Melbourne, pp. 25-31.

(55.) Australian Jewish News, 10 & 17 September 1948; Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and AntiSemitism, Annual Reports 1947-48, 1948-49; Norman Rothfield, Many Paths To Peace, Yarraford Publications, Melbourne, 1997, p. 22.

(56.) Evelyn Rothfield, Israel Reborn, Dolphin Publications, Melbourne, 1948.

(57.) Brian Fitzpatrick and 23 others, Australia and Israel, Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and AntiSemitism, Melbourne, July 1948.

(58.) 'Palestine facts show guilt of imperialists', Tribune, 22 May 1948, p. 5.

(59.) Max Watts, 'Memoir', Overland, no. 175, 2004, p. 109.

(60.) Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004.

(61.) Philip Mendes, 'An historical controversy: the causes of the Palestinian refugee problem', Journal of Arab, Islamic and Middle East Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 1996, pp. 83-89.

(62.) John McEwen, 'International Affairs', House of Representatives Hansard, 15 April 1948, p. 937.

(63.) Gouttman, 'First principles', pp. 286-287 & 293; Reich, Australia and Israel, p. 24.

(64.) Freilich, Zion in our Time, p. 170.

(65.) Eric Butler, 'How Communists and Zionists strive for world domination', New Times, 13 February 1948, p. 5.

(66.) W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia Volume II, William Heinemann, Melbourne, 1991, p. 512.

(67.) For an analysis of the range of views on the contemporary Australian Left, see Philip Mendes, 'Reflections from Australia: are anti-Zionism and antisemitism one and the same?', Covenant, vol. 2, no. 1, 2008, pp. 7-16.

(68.) John Docker and Ned Curthoys, 'Responding to our critics', Arena Magazine, no. 100, 2009, pp. 22-23.

Philip Mendes *

Philip Mendes is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and the author or co-author of six books including Jews and Australian Politics (2004) and Australia's Welfare Wars Revisited (2008).

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Author:Mendes, Philip
Publication:Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History
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Date:Nov 1, 2009
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