About the Source Paul A. Goble Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. He has served as director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn, and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. Earlier he has served in various capacities in the U.
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Euromaidan Press republishes the work of Paul Goble with permission from his blog Windows on Eurasia. Subscribe to the weekly newsletter Email address:. Here is how they worked. No historians give any weight to pro-Jewish sentiment. An American view, commonplace at the time, was that Stalin simply wanted to create turmoil. Partition would end in war, which, whatever its consequences, the Soviets could somehow exploit. How exactly such discord would serve Soviet interests remained unclear, however.
Not surprisingly, then, the Americans remained befuddled by the Soviet move, which seemed to them utterly counterintuitive. Most astute observers of Soviet policy, then and now, have attributed a more precise and plausible motive to Stalin. Stalin may have concluded that the cause of a Jewish state would be a useful lever for dislodging Britain from the heart of the region.
The British might still hold sway over their Arab clients in Transjordan and Iraq, and keep Egypt in their grip. But a Jewish state would drive the British out of Palestine, lock, stock, and barrel. True, supporting it would come at a cost: the small Arab Communist parties would be devastated. This was clear as early as June to a leading Zionist diplomat, Eliahu Sasson, whose field was Arab politics. From this vantage point, he observed the Soviets acting everywhere in the Middle East to counter the British.
His prescient conclusion:. Not only is there no reason to expect Russian policy to be hostile to us, there are grounds for thinking it will be friendly. Not out of sympathy to us or out of hatred toward the Arabs, but in order to settle political accounts with England. The anti-British logic also figured in some Soviet policy papers, and in retrospect it makes perfect sense.
The Jews had long struggled for their own state under a Zionist flag. We, of course, were against Zionism. But to refuse a people the right to statehood would mean oppressing them. An additional and crucial element—the one I signaled early on—will help fill out the picture. Although they were surprised in , many would come to believe that their own earlier efforts had produced the turnabout. The central figures in this saga include Weizmann and Ben-Gurion. Returning to Russia after the revolution, he joined the Bolshevik party and put his charm to work as a diplomat. Today, historians of the Soviet Union celebrate Maisky for his copious diary, in which he tells how, through treacherous waters, he adroitly steered Soviet-British relations through most of the war.
Chaim Weizmann, who conducted Zionist diplomacy from London, had taken notice. During the earlier world war, Weizmann had anticipated the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, placed his bet on Britain, and been instrumental in securing the Balfour Declaration.
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Now the new world war seemed likely to undo the British Empire, throwing open the Middle East once again. Who would fill the vacuum? Whom should the Zionists cultivate? Weizmann had no illusions about Stalin. In their conversation, the man credited with winning the Balfour Declaration anticipated the final demise of the British-Zionist entente. So began the wooing of Maisky, a joint effort by Weizmann and Ben-Gurion. It consisted of overtures and memos in which the Zionist leaders hammered away at set themes: the Jews were resolved to fight for their freedom, a Jewish state would be neutral, and the Arabs were either British agents or collaborators of Nazi Germany.
Give me the land occupied by a million Arabs, and I will easily settle five times that number of Jews on it.
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Three of the most fundamental aspects of Soviet social philosophy are embodied in the national system being built in Palestine by the Zionist movement: collective welfare and not individual gain is the guiding principle and goal of the economic structure; equality of standing is established in the community between manual and intellectual workers; and consequently the fullest scope is provided for intellectual life and the development of labor. There are no fundamental psychological barriers to mutual understanding, and the Zionist movement has never felt antagonistic to Soviet social philosophy.
As the war progressed and the Soviets began to push the Germans back in Europe, Zionist leaders gained the sense that their efforts were beginning to pay off. In September , as Maisky prepared to leave London for Moscow to help plan the postwar settlement, Weizmann met him one last time. Now he was the one to seize the initiative, reaching out to Ben-Gurion, who took him and his wife on an afternoon visit to two kibbutzim near Jerusalem.
As if on an official fact-finding trip, Maisky expressed keen interest in all aspects of kibbutz communal life and even posed for a photograph with Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. I could hardly believe it. It obligates us to act—here is another country that is taking an interest in this question.
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Maisky wrote a memo on his visit to Palestine. Did the memo have a similar effect in Moscow? Still, he and his colleagues also knew just what to say and in Russian so as to make support for a Jewish state appear consistent, if not with Soviet ideology or propaganda, then with Soviet interests.
And, at the moment of decision, consistent the two seemed to be.
Would this transformation in the Soviet view have occurred without years of activist Zionist diplomacy? And would it have occurred in time? Historians might differ. But Zionist leaders had no doubt: somehow, they had tipped the scales. Indeed, already by , the Soviet Union and Israel were headed for a collision. What went wrong? If it is true that the Soviet aim was to push Britain out, then by this aim had been achieved. Israel had won a decisive military victory and had even conquered the Negev, which Britain had hoped to keep as a bridge between Egypt and Transjordan.
And then there was a domestic problem where Soviet Jews were concerned. They are not under any threat. Soviet Jews will gradually merge with the general current of Russian life, as an inalienable part of it. But when Gromyko in announced the turn in Soviet policy, a wave of euphoria swept Soviet Jewry. From synagogues to labor camps, Jews openly expressed their Zionist yearnings. Meir gave a vivid description of the scene in her memoirs:.
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A crowd of close to 50, people was waiting for us. For a minute, I could not grasp what had happened—or even who they were. And then it dawned on me. They had come—those good, brave Jews—in order to be with us, to demonstrate their sense of kinship and to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel. Someone pushed me into a cab. It was all very moving. The sequel bore out these apprehensions. With each passing month they grew more alarmed at the percolation of Zionist sympathies at home. Stalin thus had ample reason to be alarmed by the impact his own policy was having on the two-and-a-half million Soviet Jews who after the Holocaust formed the largest mass of Jews in Europe.
Decades of repression had been suddenly lifted, releasing a surge of ethnic and nationalist fervor that would in turn necessitate even more brutal measures of repression.