Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Forgotten Alliance between the USSR and Israel.

with 15 comments

Most people interested in the subject know that the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognise Israel.

Indeed it was something my mother told me about.

But one suspects that few know much about the details.

Michel Réal in the latest Le Monde Diplomatique offers an account worth reading which appears in the English language edition, The forgotten alliance.

“The establishment of Israel owes much to the Soviet Union and the wide range of support — diplomatic, demographic and military — it offered the young state.”

“The Communist movement was historically opposed to the Zionist project, but Ben Gurion made it clear that the new state would not hinder Soviet interests. Moscow still withheld its support until 1946.

The turning point was in May 1947 when Britain, which had held the League of Nations mandate over Palestine since 1922, decided to transfer the case to the recently established United Nations in order to resolve the territory’s future (2). Andrei Gromyko, the young Soviet deputy foreign minister, said that the USSR was willing to support the division of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, if the one-state solution proved unworkable.”

From then until 1949, Israel enjoyed the political, military and demographic support of Stalin’s Russia, even though Stalin was at that time repressing Russian Jews, mostly because of a struggle for power at the top of the party-state. The USSR was central to the adoption of the UN plan to partition Palestine on 29 November 1947. Besides its own vote, it also delivered those of its satellites, with the (still unexplained) exception of Yugoslavia. It also provided Israel with the resources it needed most — people and arms.


In this first phase, from 1941 to 1951, Israel received support from the USSR that went beyond its expectations — without having to sacrifice the backing of western nations, especially the US.


subsequent episodes caused discord and led to Russo-Israeli diplomatic relations being severed in February 1953. First there was the USSR’s complete ban on Jewish immigration from eastern Europe, where anti-Semitic activity was widespread. Then there was the Prague trial in November 1952: after the rupture between Stalin and Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia in 1948, the leaderships of the “people’s democracies” of eastern Europe were purged. In Czechoslovakia, the general secretary of the Communist Party, Rudolf Slánský, was arrested in 1951 and accused of an “imperialist-Zionist” plot. At the show trial, 11 of the 14 accused were explicitly designated as Jews.

Then there was the “doctors’ plot” of 1953…..


Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953 ended the tensions between the countries and halted the campaign against Soviet Jews. Diplomatic relations were restored in July, but there was no return to the golden age of 1947-49, and the war of June 1967, in which Russia supported Egypt and its Arab allies, led to a second break in diplomatic relations. They were only restored in 1991, just a few months before the demise of the USSR.

Those looking at the comments here may have noticed a virulent set of exchanges (which would already fill a small book) between Tony Greenstein, Paul Bogdanor and Michael Ezra and  on the relationship between Zionism and the Nazis.

One of the main issues is claims about ‘collaboration’ between Zionists and the National Socialist regime and its allies.

Paul and Michael are unrelenting in their hostility to “Marxism-Leninism”. For reasons of their own, having little to do with reality, they claim Tony Greenstein is a supporter of this ideology.

Perhaps they might care to read and comment on Michel Réal’s article about how the real ‘Marxist-Leninists” backed Israel.




Written by Andrew Coates

September 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

15 Responses

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  1. I’ve often wondered what role expediency played in all of this. During WW2, IIRC, 180,000 eastern European Jews took refuge in the USSR. After the war had finished, the Soviets were keen to expel foreign refugees of all sorts. So those non-Soviet Jews had to go. But Soviet-occupied eastern Europe at this time was also engaged in an orgy of ethnic cleansing, and meanwhile the economic niches which many of the Jews had occupied there were being systematically abolished. So for a certain time, the Zionist project not only did “not hinder Soviet interests”, it would seem that it directly served them. Once the project started to appear attractive to Soviet Jews as well, Moscow’s attitude changed – both towards Israel, and towards Soviet Jews, whose loyalty was now in doubt…


    September 2, 2014 at 12:09 pm

  2. I don’t think that this that obscure, I’ve known about it for decades, and it’s in all good (and bad for that matter) accounts of Soviet foreign policy. Most authorities feel that Moscow’s support for the formation of Israel was the result of its desire to weaken the hold of Britain in the Middle East, a rather short-sighted one as it helped the USA to increase its influence there, but Moscow was more than once rather short-sighted in its policy choices, and probably didn’t foresee that possibility. Britain had been the major power in the Middle East, and I suspect that Moscow felt that its weakening would enable independent states to arise, and that it could have advantageous relationships with them once Britain’s influence had waned.

    Not so well known — as it means trawling through the Stalinist press — is that the Communist Party in Britain mounted a campaign for the international recognition of Israel. I saw a report in the Daily Worker of a factory gate meeting on this topic in (I think) Glasgow, so it was considered as an important issue, and I doubt if the party here would have campaigned on the topic without ‘head office’ approval. At this time, incidentally, anti-Semitism was on the rise in Britain because of the actions of Zionist terror groups in Palestine, and the Communist Party campaigned against it.

    All this took place within a growing atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, but it was one that could not be and was not officially even hinted at, but was loudly denied. Nevertheless, with the official rise of Russian nationalism from the mid-1930s, anti-Jewish insinuations and semi-statements could be heard, and unproclaimed anti-Jewish policies introduced, especially after 1945. Stalin was anti-Semitic, not in a Hitlerite pathological manner, but more in a casual racist way, and I suspect that this feeling revived within the Soviet state from the 1930s.

    One main reason I think that Soviet anti-Semitism increased was because many Soviet Jews had relations, because of the mass emigration from the Pale around 1900, in Western countries and especially the USA, where many had settled. It was this foreign connection which made Soviet Jews particularly vulnerable; the establishment of Israel would — and indeed did — increase the prejudice within the Soviet state of thinking that Soviet Jews had a ‘dual allegiance’. But in 1947, with the chance to weaken British imperialism in the Middle East, the paradox appeared of Moscow’s encouraging the establishment of Israel.

    Dr Paul

    September 2, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  3. It might be interesting if somebody went through this and correlated it with the subject (on Radio Four last night)

    “For Stalin, privacy was key. So how would he feel about his secrets being revealed?

    The Stalin Digital Archive is the result of a collaboration between the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI) and Yale University Press. As it approaches completion, the implications of this decade-long endeavour are explored by journalist and author Daniel Kalder.

    Encompassing the years 1890 through to 1952, over 400,000 pages of archive prise open a safe full of Soviet secrets. There’s Stalin’s foreign policy with Germany before World War II; communications during the Great Purges and relations with Western intellectuals and leaders. There are classified documents regarding deposed police chiefs, the ‘Interior Ministry of the Russian Empire’ and, latterly, the FBI. Pieced together, this puzzle of papers underlines the suspicion and paranoia that dominated this era.

    Daniel Kalder believes that the collection has provided us with important new ways to ‘read’ Stalin. We discover:

    Stalin as artist: he loved to draw wolves’ heads all over his notes while he was sitting in tedious meetings. That was the only thing he drew – wolves, wolves, wolves. A holdover from his years spent in exile in Siberia, surrounded by wolves?

    Stalin was modest: he hacked out references to himself in the works he edited. A revelatory and previously unknown quality, this completely inverts our understanding of Stalin

    Stalin was smart: he added lots to Marxist theory, and yet, according to Trotsky, his limited mental capacity wasn’t up to such a task

    With the click of a mouse, we gain access to one of the most guarded and secretive periods in Russia’s modern history.


    Andrew Coates

    September 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm

  4. ‘Stalin was modest: he hacked out references to himself in the works he edited. A revelatory and previously unknown quality, this completely inverts our understanding of Stalin.’

    The real egomaniac knows where to downplay things: the important thing for him was to have people sucking up to him. His rejection of references to himself was a way of demonstrating his power, and a way of showing this to his obsequious underlings. It’s not an unknown thing either — he had published a letter calling for an account of his youthful days to be scrapped on these grounds. He also turned down a call for Moscow to be renamed ‘Stalin’s Gift’, but I bet he secretly enjoyed being asked to rename it thus.

    As for adding to Marxist theory — exactly what? The idea that class enemies become ever more rabid (rather than accept the inevitable) as socialism becomes ever stronger and nearer to fruition? A few homilies on linguistics? ‘Socialism In One Country’?

    Dr Paul

    September 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm

  5. Not sure what the motive of this article is?

    “Perhaps they might care to read and comment on Michel Réal’s article about how the real ‘Marxist-Leninists” backed Israel.”

    So the USSR for a moment in it’s history supported Zionism and this shows that ‘real’ ‘Marxist-Leninists backed Israel? But if we follow your ‘logic’ we can also say that before and after this period of backing Israel real ‘Marxist-Leninists” opposed Israel!

    So where have we got exactly and what have we proved?

    Socialism In One Bedroom

    September 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  6. Julius Caesar was the same, he turned the crown of Rome down three times but he was mighty pleased to be offered it. As Dr Paul says, he was wise enough to realise it would be a bad thing. He also wrote books.

    Sue R

    September 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm

  7. There’s a very good psychological analysis of Stalin in Robert Tucker’s two books on him, which shows how his deep psychological problems affected him throughout his career and especially in his rise to power and during the exercising of power as General Secretary. Unfortunately, the third volume, which would have covered his last decade, wasn’t written.

    Dr Paul

    September 2, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  8. Some decades ago there were allegations in some Left-wing periodicals that the USSR had held up or slowed supplies to Egypt during the 1967 War. My recollection is that it was fuel for the tanks (which they were delivering processed) but it could have been spare parts.

    However about that, there seems to be an assumption in some of the threads here that once the alleged (I say because I have not studied that aspect) persecution of Jews in the USSR had ceased, that the permitting of Jewish emigration was a positive thing. Is it not true that from that time on, the USSR became the de facto main supplier of men and women to Israel, who used them to fill their armed forces and to colonise more Palestinian land?

    Diarmuid Breatnach

    September 2, 2014 at 11:50 pm

  9. About 3 years ago I had lunch with Reuven Kaminer, a man in his 80s who lives with his wife in israel where, to my knowledge, they work with the Israeli CP. Their son is a well-known refusenik. Reuven told me that they moved to Israel in the 1950s after becoming convinced that Israel was building socialism. Needless to say, they have been disabused of this idea but in the 1950s it was not unusual for CP’ers in the USA (they were in Detroit) to think this way.


    September 3, 2014 at 1:27 am

  10. Please forgive the self promotion. As to the USSR’s initial support of Israel, circa 1950, one can sort of understand why:

    “Indeed, aside from the fact that there were still opposition parties and some degree of freedom for non-Arab minority opinion, Israel under MAPAI had aspects that were eerily reminiscent of Stalinism. One small group of leaders (MAPAI) controlled the political party of the workers, the trade union of the workers, the state-owned industry (“of the workers”), and through a series of coalitions, the government (also “of the workers”). This “workers'” state could break strikes (how could workers sensibly strike against “themselves,” after all) and then deny strikers further employment in the “socialist” sector by a labor court presided over by appointees of MAPAI.”

    Source: http://nova.wpunj.edu/newpolitics/issue35/schulman35.htm

  11. Thanks Jason, an important article.

    Andrew Coates

    September 3, 2014 at 11:06 am

  12. One of the best things I have read on the subject of Soviet support for the formation of the State of Israel, which I recommend, is the following article:

    Gabriel Gorodetsky, “The Soviet Union’s role in the creation of the state of Israel,” The Journal of Israeli History, Vol. 22, No. 1, (Spring 2003), pp.4-20.


    The Journal of Israeli History is run out of Tel Aviv University. Those boycotting Israel should not read this article unless they become infected with Zionist Untermenschen disease.

    Michael Ezra

    September 3, 2014 at 11:35 am

  13. Lou P’s posting reminds of something Charlie Pottins once said to me about Stalinists-turned-Zionists: ‘They used to seek their Jerusalem in Moscow, but now seek their Moscow in Jerusalem.’

    Dr Paul

    September 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm

  14. Dr. Paul’s comment reminds me that, along with Charlie Pottins, there were a number of Zionists-turned-Trots. An anecdote from Richard Kuper comes to mind:

    I do remember when the International Socialism Group (as it was then) had its first international meeting in 1970 with comrades from Lutte Ouvriére, the American Independent Socialists (I think it still was) and others, four of us from four countries ended up drunkenly singing Hatikvah as the one song we all knew in common.

    Michael Ezra

    September 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

  15. “Those boycotting Israel should not read this article unless they become infected with Zionist Untermenschen disease.”

    Thanks I won’t read it then.

    Solidarity with the Palestinians!

    Socialism in One Bedroom

    September 3, 2014 at 7:15 pm

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