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Terror Out of Zion

There is no love lost between the British Foreign Office and Israel.  In a report to parliament last month, Foreign Minister William Hague condemned Israel for building in Jerusalem, being in the West Bank, and treating the present Gaza regime like the enemy it is.  Hague's report mentioned Hamas only to blame Israel for the Islamist group's obduracy.  Many factors help explain official Britain's less-than-fraternal attitude toward the Jewish state, but no such inventory would be complete without recalling the bad blood spawned by the Mandate, particularly the violent struggle waged against British rule by the Irgun and the underground group Lehi—Freedom Fighters for Israel, or FFI, a/k/a the Stern Group or the Stern Gang.  Nations have interests; they also have long memories.

Relevant Links
Israel Eldad Remembered  Joshua Hamerman, Israel National Television. Historian Zev Golan and Aryeh Eldad, Israel Eldad’s son and a member of the Israeli Knesset, discuss the ideas of one of Lehi’s triumvirate of leaders. (Video)
Hunting Season  Joshua Hamerman, Etzel Museum. The 1944 assassination by FFI operatives of Britain’s top man in the Middle East ignited a fierce reaction by the Zionist establishment.
Stern's Son Denies Plot to Kill Churchill  Joshua Hamerman, Jerusalem Post. In 1945, British officials in London feared that FFI’s assassination targets might include the prime minister himself.

A new book by Zev Golan, Stern: the Man and His Gang, brings fresh focus to the nasty fight waged by FFI against British policymakers and security personnel beginning in 1940.  Golan's is a sympathetic narrative of an extremist and fringe movement that never numbered more than 900 members.  It begins with Avraham Stern's 1926 arrival in Palestine, his student life at Hebrew University, and his developing commitment to Jewish observance.  It covers his break with the Haganah over its policy of "restraint" in the face of murderous Arab riots against the Yishuv and Britain's breach of its League of Nations commitment to foster a Jewish homeland.

Golan's book appears precisely 65 years after the bloody November, 1946 FFI offensive that claimed a score of mostly British lives.  On November 17, FFI operatives detonated a mine that killed four and wounded several others; over the course of the month, FFI gunmen sabotaged rail lines, shot at trains, blew up military vehicles, destroyed international telegraph lines, attacked police stations, robbed Barclays Bank in Tel Aviv, and set off an explosion at a British military base. 

British authorities retaliated with a heavy hand.  Renegade British soldiers ran riot, shooting and assaulting Jewish passers-by and even murdering a Jewish constable.  Such violence did not give the Stern Group second thoughts.  Stern had a grandiose vision of a Greater Israel—from the Nile to the Euphrates!—that would be established by force.  The territory's existing Arab population would be "exchanged," presumably for Jews in the Middle East and elsewhere.

FFI leadership ran the political gamut from old-line socialists to hard line nationalists.  What they had in common was the belief that a small vanguard group could liberate of the entire Jewish people.  "It is permitted to liberate a people even against its will, or against the will of the majority," then-Stern Group member Yitzhak Shamir would say many years later.  The Sternists, according to Golan, broke with the Irgun because they "rejected the idea of obeisance" to Jewish leaders not sufficiently committed to a militant campaign for independence.

Zionist officialdom reciprocated, condemning the Sternists as terrorist "gangs" and calling for their "liquidation."  The dissident Zionist movement led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky also opposed FFI's operations.  But the gap between the FFI and other Zionists went further.  Most Zionists supported Britain's war effort against Nazi Germany.  "We want England to win," said Jabotinsky, "regardless of all her crimes against Zionism."  Not so for Stern, who sent overtures to German intelligence in Beirut in the naive hope that Berlin would permit Europe's Jews to leave for Eretz Israel in return for FFI's continued war against England.  

Stern's "Revolutionary Zionism" did not dwell on the persecution of the individual Jew—not even by the Nazis—because FFI was struggling for the violent political redemption of the Jewish people in its entirety.  Stern could not have known the details of Hitler's plan for the annihilation of European Jewry, which were not systematized until 1942; but he knew that the Jews' fate was hanging by a thread.  And still he pursued his campaign to eject the British from Palestine as if it "had nothing to do with the Holocaust."  

Stern was hunted down and executed in Tel Aviv by British security men in 1942.  Thereafter, FFI's leadership was assumed by the more methodical Shamir, later Israel's prime minister, who undertook its painstaking renewal.  Shamir ordered the November, 1944 assassination of Lord Moyne, the British official responsible for keeping the doors of Palestine closed to Jews fleeing Hitler.  In mid-1948, with Shamir's approval, FFI assassinated United Nations envoy Count Folke Bernadotte, who had tried to undo the 1947 Partition Plan embodying the creation of Israel.

Only during the War of Independence would the Sternists be incorporated into the Israel Defense Force.  After the war, FFI's bickering leaders unsuccessfully sought to create a political platform, with some seeking to align the Zionists with Stalin's "anti-imperialistic" Soviet Union.  Shamir and several others eventually aligned with the Likud.

Golan provides capsule biographies of other key FFI figures—he calls them "people of principles"—including Nathan Yalin-Mor, the movement's top propagandist, and Israel Eldad, its foremost theoretician.  While the book is not hagiography, neither is it a critical treatment of Stern and his movement.  Golan notes that for the most part, before 1947, FFI did not authorize attacks against British civilians who were not "official" representatives of the regime.  Yes, its credo was "terror"; but, unlike the targets of today's Palestinian Arab terror groups, Golan insists, FFI targets were not primarily innocent civilians.

The value of this workmanlike book is that it is told from the unique perspectives of former FFI fighters, including Shamir and Eldad, as well as Stern's brother and widow, all of whom Golan interviewed.  Stern was a maximalist who maintained that even Jabotinsky was insufficiently committed to Jewish independence.  Today, on the radical fringes of Israel's extreme right, there are those who reject loyalty to the state and IDF on the grounds that the nation's leaders are insufficiently committed to the Land and Torah of Israel.  Would Stern—who died at age 35, six years before Israel came into being—have rejected such fanaticism on the grounds that it jeopardizes the Third Commonwealth?  We will never know.

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Cynic on December 6, 2011 at 8:30 am (Reply)
It's a pity that you were not able to expand on the British "dirty tricks" employed against the Jews of Palestine. Not for nothing was Britain known all around the Commonwealth as "perfidious Albion." The British government of that time was complicit in the massacre of European Jewry by closing all the doors to escape.
Alan Abbey on December 6, 2011 at 9:38 am (Reply)
This may shed more light on Britain's "long memory" vis-a-vis Israel: Israeli fighter planes accidentally shot down RAF fighter planes while chasing Egyptian planes in the waning days of the War of Independence. Here's one of many links on the subject:
Ellen on December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am (Reply)
Thanks for the nice review. I would disagree slightly: The hostility of the British Foreign Office over the last 40 years has far more to do with the sinking power and self-image of a former empire than with the relatively minor Stern Gang episode. The British diplomatic corps, like their French counterparts, used to rule the roost in the entire geographic span from Morocco to Iraq, on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. When these territories achieved their independence in the mid-20th century, the British and French did their best to install satrapy governments, typically composed of small cliques and sectarian groups that would comply with British and French global power-mongering needs. The British and French cast their lot with these Arab states, thinking that the Jewish state would be an unviable proposition. Too bad for their faulty risk projections. The regimes and cliques they installed never produced functional, productive societies and are now being overthrown, leaving incalculable damage behind. Meanwhile, Israel is quietly emerging as the main stable economic and military power in the region. This must cause great consternation in London and Paris. Having lost their empires, they are now losing the post-imperial order on which they wasted so much treasure and prestige. That accounts for much of the official hostility of the diplomatic corps in these two countries.

No matter. The European debt crisis and demographic disaster will seal their fate. They should have devoted more time to their own internal problems than their obsessive peace processing in the MidEast.
SW on December 6, 2011 at 11:50 am (Reply)
The end of the article says, "Today, on the radical fringes of Israel's extreme right . . . ." What does "extreme right" in Israel today actually mean? In the political discourse around me in Germany, everyone seems very convinced that it means something--until asked to define what it is. If National Socialism--the marker and gold standard in this matter--is "extreme right," then why did they name themselves socialists? How is that any different from the "extreme left?"
Eliyahu on December 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm (Reply)
Britain prevented Jewish refugees from the Nazis from finding refuge in the internationally designated Jewish national home. Nor did any Allied power bomb the gas chambers, at Auschwitz or elsewhere. The BBC had a formal policy of not reporting on massacres of Jews. British policy refused to allow the British Army to stop the Farhud massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1941. Jews had reasons to hate Britain.
Haim on December 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm (Reply)
Count Folke Bernadotte did not attempt to undo the patition plan. He was going to propose revisions of the boundaries of the parition plan. It should be remembered that he saved thousands of Jewish lives at the end of the war by arranging for buses to take Jewish survivors from German concentration camps to Sweden. Ben Gurion learned very quickly who had ordered the murder. Some were tried and, after a few weeks, were all pardoned. We should remember that first terrorist attack against the United Nations came from Israelis. There is a plaque in Bernadotte's memory at UN headquarters in New York. May his name be for a blessing. May the name of Itzak Stern be erased.
Gerald Zuk, PhD on December 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm (Reply)
No love lost between Britain and the Jews for 1,500 years or more.
David on December 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm (Reply)
William Hague's loathing of Israel is not new. He has expressed his opinions of the Jewish state when serving in previous British governments. Some in the United Kingdom have never gotten over the fact that a rag-tag group of Jews drove the mighty British Army from Israel--Hague among them, no doubt.
Cynic on December 7, 2011 at 9:31 am (Reply)
It was not an accident that RAF Spitfires were shot down: They were flying for the Egyptians, just as British Army officers commanded the Jordanian Army in its onslaught in Jerusalem and what is known as the West Bank. During the Mandate years, it was nothing for the British to disarm farmers and kibbutzim, leaving them to suffer from marauding Arabs who killed and stole livestock.
Cynic on December 7, 2011 at 9:40 am (Reply)
"Extreme right" is pejorative, implying Nazism. The greatest piece of disinformation disseminated by the Communists was that Nazism was the polar opposite of Communism. They were all socialists--the International Socialists, the National Socialists, and the Fascists. John Toland in his biography of Hitler, describes Hitler's 1927 May Day speech, in which Hitler denigrates capitalism in favour of socialism. Those who have learned a bit about the past they will have discovered that Stalin helped Hitler re-arm Germany in the 1930s.
Cynic on December 7, 2011 at 9:45 am (Reply)
Why to Sweden, a country that aided Nazi Germany with steel for its war effort? Why did he not send them to Palestine? It was nice of the British to incarcerate, in concentration camps on Cyprus, those Jews who survived the death camps and made it to the shores of Palestine.
zelda harris on December 7, 2011 at 10:29 am (Reply)
Credit is due to both Elliot Jager and the author Zev Golan for clarifying a painful and yet courageous period in our history, one that calls into question what is happening in our country today.
Mordecai ben Natan on December 7, 2011 at 11:38 am (Reply)
Let us not forget that Churchill stabbed the Jews in the back by ignoring the League of Nations and Balfor Declaration and giving the Arabs more that 80 percent of the land given to the Jews. Had Churchill not done so, there would have been no Jordan (and other states).
Beatrix on December 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm (Reply)
There was a time when Hitler would have allowed the Jews to emigrate to Israel, and England closed that door. Nothing the Stern Gang did was equal to that. England thought that she could remain a power by beating Israel in war and endearing herself to the Arabs, but Israel threw England out of the Mideast and onto the back burner of history. That's why England can't forgive Israel. Today England has cachet only because she speaks the same language as America and has the BBC. But even the BBC is wearing thin. And what's the point of speaking the same language as a country that has nothing to say?
SW on December 9, 2011 at 3:30 am (Reply)
"But even the BBC is wearing thin. nd what's the point of speaking the same language as a country that has nothing to say?" Actually, the BBC has much to say--repetitive, utterly political towards certain ends, and stulifyingly bland. We have them on our cable channels. I polled many of our English-speaking neighbors to ask who listens to the BBC. The answer: None of us. One gets far more honest reporting from NTV, ARD, and so on than one gets from the BBC. They represent the Britain that would happily see Israel punished for all the problems of the Muslim world.
Yoel on December 9, 2011 at 5:57 am (Reply)
Avraham Stern was not "executed" by the British, he was murdered by them--hands tied, shot in the back. That's execution?
Cynic on December 9, 2011 at 9:05 am (Reply)
It's rather strange that all those people who give Arab violence a pass because Arabs are "fighting the occupation and for freedom" cannot find it in themselves to include the context, in the years preceding WWII, of British colonial behaviour against the Jews, who reached the depths of frustration when the door to freedom for European Jews was closed.
No, these people say Jewish gangs resorted to violence just because they were Jews; no reason is supplied when it comes to Jews.

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