Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam.
Ben Carson’s comments that armed Jews might have saved lives in the Holocaust by resisting Nazi terror have been met with condescending mockery from the left. The Jewish establishment, a network of wealthy non-profit organizations that claim to represent Jews without ever being chosen by them and while working against their interests, has reacted in the same way as their liberal brethren.
But this establishment has forgotten that it was built on providing guns to Jews.
Historical revisionism is what the left does best. American Jewish history in the last century is a revisionist history in which the heroes are the “establishment”. The truth lies buried in old papers and lost documents. And it’s a deeply compelling truth of how the left suppressed Jewish self-defense.
The Jewish Defense Association was the first time that uptown establishment German Jews and downtown Eastern Jewish immigrants came together. The JDA’s goal had little in common with the empty rubber chicken dinner agendas of what the establishment that grew out of it would become.
Instead the Jewish Defense Association’s mission was simple. Buy guns for Jews.
Its agenda, as reported by the New York Times was, “New massacres are preparing. Our people must be possessed of arms to defend themselves and their honor.”
The year was 1905. The slow bloody beginning of the Russian Revolution was underway. Much like the Syrian Civil War, brutal militias aligned with different factions from the left to the right would arise out of the violence. Like the Christians in Syria, the Jews were an isolated minority. Xenophobia allowed both Communists and Czarists to score populist points by massacring the Jews in violent pogroms.
The Jewish Defense Association responded with a call to arms. Its motto took a part of Hillel’s credo, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me.” Its membership encompassed the left and the right, Zionists and anti-Zionists, religious and secular Jews.
A march of 200,000 Jews to Union Square included 5,000 former Russian soldiers, the volunteer Zion Guards in blue uniforms carrying rifles and the young men of the Manhattan Rifles, begun in the Lower East Side’s Educational Alliance as the Alliance Cadets, which had been formed in imitation of the Jewish Lads Brigade, a group that had put thousands of Jewish boys in the UK through military training.
The final resolutions declared that, “Eternal vigilance is the price of the Jew's life, and that we urge our people to take up arms against their assailants, and if need be to sell their lives most dearly.”
It concluded with the ringing challenge, "We call Jews everywhere toward the defense of the Jewish people."
In the words of the New York Times, "A ripple went through the crowd like wind rising to a hurricane which roared "Aye!"
It was undoubtedly the most heavily armed Jewish rally in American history. The sight of all those guns, not to mention early versions of the Israeli flag, would give any modern establishment leader a fit.
And yet the JDA included key establishment figures like Judah Magnes and Louis Marshall. Branches of the organization quickly emerged around the country from Los Angeles to Cincinnati showing how popular the message of Jewish self-defense was.
"In underlining the word ‘Self’ it expresses its conviction of the futility of all kinds of Jewish demonstration which appeal to others," Rabbi Israel Friedlander, a co-founder of Young Israel who would later be murdered by Communist thugs, wrote.
"The modern Jew, who is otherwise ready to boast of his liberalism… anxiously watches every nod of a king and every smile of a prime minister. The old ‘Shtadlan’ still exists in the form of the ‘influential Hebrew’ who on the backstairs often begs what as a representative of a free nation he ought openly to demand. In times of danger the modern Jews... appeal to the Spirit of Humanity, Modern Civilization or Brotherhood of Mankind, without themselves moving a finger in their defense."
"Attacks of bloodthirsty beasts cannot be beaten back by appeals to Humanity and Civilization,” he wrote.”Surely the Self-Defense of the Jews will not at once stop all further bloodshed. Some Jews may still be slain, be destroyed and be beaten. But they will certainly not be put to shame. They will meet violence with violence and teach their enemies the value of a Jewish life."
But of course it was not to be.
The “Shtadlans,” the institutional establishment figures who had taken over the JDA, would abandon and dismantle it, recreating its corpse as the American Jewish Committee. The AJC would default to exactly the kind of aimless political begging that Rabbi Friedlander had condemned because that made power brokers like Marshall and Magnes feel important. Their goal was not to empower Jews, but to disempower them. The establishment robbed Jews of their power and offered them a chance to donate to a corrupt network of organizations whose only real purpose was making their leaders feel important.
Meanwhile the leftists tore apart the JDA by refusing to work with the Jewish “religious and capitalist elements” of the JDA.
Leading the charge against the JDA were the Bund, an anti-Jewish Marxist organization, and the Forward, a radical left-wing paper that continues to spread hate against Jews and Judaism today.
While the Bund and the Forward’s mendacious Abe Cahan had initially supported the JDA in order to take advantage of Jewish outrage over the pogroms, the Bund’s position firmly opposed self-defense along “national lines” as a distraction from class consciousness and class warfare. And armed Jews, especially Zionists, might end up shooting some of the Bund’s favorite “workers mobs” at a pogrom.
Jewish self-defense threatened the Marxist agenda. The Marxists were willing to exploit Jews through front groups, but were determined to deny them any ability to defend themselves. For its Communist collaboration, the Bund earned the dubious honor of being the last non-Bolshevik Jewish organization allowed to operate on Soviet soil. Eventually it was purged and its members were shot. Others found their way into the Yevsektsiya, the Communist Party’s Jewish Section, tasked with wiping out Judaism by shutting down synagogues and Jewish institutions, and organizing the murder of Rabbis and Zionists.
Despite the interference of the Marxists, Jewish self-defense groups in Russia, such as the Giborei Zion (Heroes of Zion), assembled their own weapons or smuggled them in to resist attacks.
The Communist takeover led to the end of Jewish self-defense groups in Russia. Those who stayed behind were shot or sent to gulags. Many others made their way to Israel where they helped defend Jews against Muslim terror and fought for the independence of the Jewish State. Others played a key role in the resistance to Nazi occupation during WW2 in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere.
The self-defense organizations that had failed in Russia, succeeded in Israel. They did it even though the establishment continued to undermine them by entering into a shameful collaboration with the USSR.
The JDC and the establishment spent most of its money on Soviet agricultural colonies in which Russian Jews were supposed to find a “new life” and a “happy future”. Newspapers were filled with glowing accounts of how happy the resettled Jews were. The scam eventually collapsed when the Communists had gotten enough money out of their useful anti-Zionist idiots. Those Jews who had been resettled, were murdered by the Nazis. Local JDC employees were shot or imprisoned.
At a crucial period, the establishment had starved Jewish settlers of funds that could have been used to dramatically transform Israel. But the pro-Communist left had its own agenda. The eagerness of the JDC to collaborate with the Communists could be found in their cover-up of the murder of Rabbi Friedlander.
Rabbi Friedlander, who advocated Jewish self-defense, had been in the Ukraine as a JDC emissary. He and two other Jews were murdered by the Red Army. The Forward feverishly engaged in a cover-up while the JDC stayed silent to avoid offending the Bolsheviks and their fellow travelers at the Forward.
Jewish self-defense was popular with Jews, but unpopular with the establishment and the far left. The establishment wanted Jews to be dependent on their political access, but refused to use that access to protect Jews by challenging the left, whether that meant standing up to the USSR over its persecution of Jews or to FDR over the Holocaust.
The far left had done everything in its power to suppress a “national solution” to the Jewish question. That is still what it is doing today. Its fight against Israel has nothing to do with the fake nationhood of the “Palestinian” terror groups, but is part of a longstanding campaign to shut down any independent Jewish consciousness because that might interfere with its class consciousness and class warfare.
American Jews are blamed for their apathy to the Holocaust or to Israel. But the good intentions of ordinary Jews were hijacked and continue to be hijacked by a corrupt establishment for its own political agendas. The establishment put FDR first and the left put Stalin first. Today it puts Obama first. It is a parasitic entity that hijacked Jewish self-defense and concerns while costing countless Jewish lives.
Armed Jews alone would not have stopped the Holocaust, but the awareness rising in Jewish circles in 1905 could have led to a movement that would have built a secure Israel and evacuated Jews from danger zones long before the Holocaust. Guns are only the final element of self-defense. Self-defense begins with awareness and mobilization. It’s what you do to prepare for the worst that really counts.
Very little has changed today. The establishment continues to undermine Israel, pursuing left-wing causes at Jewish expense, while pretending that it cares about the Jewish State, even as it undermines its efforts at self-defense. The left wants to destroy Israel. And the establishment helps make it happen.
The establishment ridicules the idea for which those 200,000 Jews gathered, armed and unarmed, over a century ago. Such contempt is fashionable in liberal circles. And yet that old message continues to resound today. “Our people must be possessed of arms to defend themselves and their honor.”