On Dec. 4, 1948 Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and 26 others had a letter published in the New York Times warning about the then new "Herut" Party in Israel that was beginning a major fund raising drive in the United States. Herut has since morphed into the Likud, which runs the government now and has been the dominant party in Israel for over 35 years.
The letter pulled no punches. It described the party as "a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties." Realize this was just 3 years after World War II and you see the power of the accusation. It explains that the party was based on the former "Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine." It warned Americans to avoid the tour of party leader Menachem Begin (and later Israeli prime minister) so as not to support "Fascism" in Israel. The letter writers warned that the party pretended to stand for freedom and democracy, but "until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state." The letter explained that the party in its actions was "terrorist" and related its part in the massacre of hundreds that spring in Deir Yassin and its beatings and shooting of Jews in Palestine that stood in its way.
The letter writers had a warning for labor leaders. "Like other Fascist parties they have been
used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free
It concluded by explaining that the signers felt they had to
send the letter because "the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to
campaign against Begin's efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the
dangers to Israel from support to Begin."
While very progressive on the whole the letter is not above
criticism. In criticizing the followers
of Herut the letter says, "They have reclaimed no land, built no settlements,
and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity." We know full well now about the settlements
built by the Zionist "Left" generally built on land taken from Palestinians and
almost universally restricted to "Jews only".
Ten years ago I interviewed Columbia professor and social critic Seymour Melman(pp. 5-7) who then was one of the last surviving signers of the letter. He said the letter was largely composed by Zelig S. Harris and members of a group of Zionists that supported a "bi-nationalist" country. (At the time it was also called anti-state Zionism.) Einstein was friendly to the group.
I asked Melman about the effect of the letter. He said it "torpedoed much of their PR activity" and led to the cancellation by a major speaker at the Carnegie Hall event, John F. Kennedy.
When asked to talk about the Likud, the successor to the
Herut, Melman said it had the "unmistakable stamp of a fascist party". He said, "Israel is not fascist, but the
Likud is fascist."