|Author: Laurent Rucker|
THE UNEXPECTED ALLIANCE :
USSR AND ISRAEL DURING THE 1940’S.
Before 1947, there was no reason to think that Soviet Union would firmly support the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. The long rooted communist hostility towards the Zionist project, the end of the Grand Alliance and the emerging Cold War, as well as the Russian anti-Semitic tradition led to the conclusion that Moscow would be a strong opponent of the plan to partition Palestine.
When, how and why did the Soviet Union decide to provide political, military and demographic support for the Zionist movement? New documents from the Soviet archives shed new light on this surprising episode at the very beginning of the Cold War.
The first contacts between Moscow and the Zionist movement occurred at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939. The Ribbentrop-Molotov partition of Poland and the Soviet annexation of Eastern Poland, Bessarabia, the Northern Bukovina and the Baltic States resulted in the Soviets having to absorb almost 2 million Jews. The Jewish population under Soviet rule grew up from 3,020,000 in 1939 to 4,800,000 persons in 1940. To this one must add almost 300,000 refugees from the German-occupied Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. The fate of this population caused the Zionist leadership to open a dialog with the Soviet diplomats, especially with Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador in London.
Initial contacts concerned Jewish refugees and immigration. In February 1940, the chief rabbi of Palestine, Isaac Halevi Herzog, had a meeting with Maisky to ask for transit visas for students of religious schools who had fled from Poland to Lithuania and wanted to emigrate to Palestine1. In October 1940, the Zionist leaders decided to contact Soviet diplomats in London and Washington in order to sent a delegation to Moscow to discuss the problem of the Polish Jews refugees2. In January 1941, Chaim Weizmann, the President of the World Zionist Organization, met with Ivan Maisky. After suggesting that Soviet Union could purchase oranges from Palestine and pay with furs in New York (!); Weizmann brought up the future of Palestine. Maisky in response stated that there would have to be an exchange of populations in Palestine to settle Jews from Europe. Weizmann related that if half a million Arabs could be transferred, two million Jews could be put in their place. Maisky did not appear to be shocked by this idea3. While Zionist-Soviet contacts were established at the time of Nazi-Soviet Alliance, the German invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941, offered a great opportunity to strengthen these contacts. Zionist leaders pursued two goals: (1) to reach an agreement to allow Polish Jews in the Soviet Union to emigrate to Palestine, and (2) to convince the anti-Zionist Bolshevik leaders that the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine would not be contrary to their interests.
On 9 October 1941, David Ben Gurion, President of the Jewish Agency, met Ivan Maisky in London. He explained the achievements of the Yishuv, pointing out its socialist aims and proposed to send a delegation to Moscow to discuss the contribution of the Zionist movement to the Soviet war effort and the future of Palestine. Ben Gurion emphasized the future role of the Soviet Union as a leading great power in the postwar era. Maisky asked Ben Gurion to send a memorandum on the issue4. From Moscow’s viewpoint, the purpose of these contacts with the Zionist representatives was to facilitate an American contribution to the Soviet war effort, as Maisky said to Ben Gurion : "You are going to America. You will render us a great service if you will impress upon people there the urgency of helping us ; we need tanks, guns, planes—as many as possible, and above all, as soon as possible."5
On 2 March 1942, Chaim Weizmann sent a memorandum to Maisky pointing out the "massacres and sufferings inflicted by the Nazis" on European Jewry. After the war, wrote Weizmann, most of the Jews surviving in Eastern Europe would have no choice but to emigrate to Palestine. He tried to convince the Soviets that "the past misunderstandings should not a new orientation of the USSR towards Zionism" and called on Moscow to "take an interest in the Zionist solution of the Jewish question."6 At the same time, the Zionist movement explored others channels, particularly through the Soviet Embassy in Ankara. Thanks to the British ambassador, in January 1942, Eliahu Epstein met Sergei Vinogradov, the Soviet ambassador to Turkey. Epstein offered to send a field hospital, medicines and doctors to the front and asked for one or two permanent representatives in Moscow to deal with immigration permits for the Jewish refugees in USSR. He mentioned also the problem of the Zionist prisoners in the Soviet Union. In his report to Moshe Shertok, Epstein decried the ignorance of Vinogradov "which is the result of arrogance and communist propaganda." According to Epstein, these directs contacts were useful to explain the goals of Zionism in Palestine even if the conversations with Soviet diplomats "did not advance our interests towards their resolution."7
The strategy of the Zionist movement proved fruitful. In August 1942, two diplomats from the Soviet embassy in Ankara, Sergei Mikhailkov and Nikolai Petrenko, went to Palestine for the first time to attend the V League Founding Convention. The V-League was an organization established to support the Soviet war effort by collecting money and initiating various public events and its success was immediate. One year after its founding, the League had 20,000 members and one hundred sections in Palestine. The V League was not just a pro-Soviet organization. It included representatives of all Zionist-Socialist parties, the communist party, and intellectuals. Because the League was not under Soviet control the MID was suspicious but considered that "the League's activity is useful."8 Petrenko and Mikhailov met the leaders of the Yishuv, the British high commissioner and Arabs representatives in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Zionist leaders drew a positive balance sheet of the visit of the two diplomats. Mikhailov said that the "Jews achievements was beyond anyone's dreams."9 However the Soviet representatives said nothing about the future position of their country on the partition of Palestine. According to Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, this visit "should be seen as a sort of beginning of new contacts with Soviet Russia. For the first time in modern history representatives of Russia saw ten of thousands of Jews working and fighting."10
From 1943 onwards, the contacts between Soviet and Zionist representatives intensified as plans for the postwar order were increasingly on the agenda. The Jewish Agency used every channel to send the same message to Moscow: there was no more ground for the antagonism between the Soviet Union and Zionism. The moment had now come for a revision and for the establishment of relations of mutual understanding. This was the substance of a memorandum written in May 1943 by Nahum Goldmann and sent to Moscow through the Czechoslovak president-in-exile, Eduard Benes11. Once more Ivan Maisky played a central role in the Soviet-Zionist rapprochement. A few days before his departure for Moscow—Stalin and Molotov recalled him to prepare the future peace conferences—Maisky received Chaim Weizmann in London. He said that the Soviet government would understand the Zionist aims and "certainly stand by them. As during his first conversation with Weizmann two years earlier, however, Maisky was still worried about the capacity to absorb the Yishuv because of the "small size of Palestine."12 On the road from London to Moscow, the Soviet diplomat stopped in Egypt and then in Palestine where he could de visu come to his own opinion about the Zionist achievements. He stayed less than two days in the Holy Land. He met High Commissioner Harold McMichael and David Ben Gurion. He spent a little but critical time with the president of Jewish Agency. Ben Gurion and Maisky, accompanied by his wife and escorted by British army and the intelligence officials, visited two kibbutz near Jerusalem. During the conversation Maisky turned to the postwar settlement: "After the war there will be a serious Jewish problem and it will be resolved; we have to express an opinion, so we must know. We are told that there is no room here in Palestine, we want to know the truth, what is the capacity of Palestine?"13 After visiting the kibbutz, the delegation decided to go the Jewish district of Jerusalem, creating panic among the British security! Maisky’s interest in the Yishuv was a surprise for Ben Gurion: "I could hardly believe it. It obligates us to act — here is another country that is taking an interest in this question."14
The Zionist movement achieved its first goal: involving USSR in the fate of Palestine. But it had no guarantee regarding Moscow’s future position. On the eve of the German surrender, Stalin and Molotov were confronted with the choice between two options in the Middle East: the Arab option or the Jewish option.
Right from the beginning of the war, more precisely, since December 1941, after the Wehrmacht failed to conquer Moscow, Soviet leaders had been thinking about the postwar order. At this time, Stalin’s and Molotov’s first and main goal was to preserve the territorial gains in Eastern Europe obtained during the era of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from 1939 to 1941. This objective had been clearly expressed during the British foreign secretary Anthony Eden visit to Moscow in late December and also in numerous memorandum produced by the commissions and working groups established to plan for the postwar order.
Ivan Maisky was the author of one of these memoranda. In January 1944, he sent Molotov a long synthesis about the postwar order centered on the strategic objective of preserving Soviet gains in Eastern Europe15. According to him, the postwar order had to create a "long peace” in Europe and Asia—between 30 and 50 years—necessary for the USSR to become sufficiently strong to fear no aggression and that any power or of any combination of powers in Europe and Asia from even considering such aggression. This long peace was also necessary for Europe to become socialist, since Maisky did not believe that proletarian revolutions would occur in Europe after the war. In such a scenario, according to Leninist principles, Moscow’s strategy should be to exploit the contradictions between the imperialist powers (Great Britain and United States) in pursuit of Soviet interests. In classical balance of power thinking, Maisky suggested keeping Great Britain strong power so as to counterbalance the United States’ imperialist expansion. On this point Maisky differed from Litvinov. He argued that British power would remain dominant in Western Europe and that the United States would retreat into isolationism. He suggested that it was possible to reconcile the interests of the Soviet Union and Great Britain.16
Litvinov was in favor of a Soviet-American rapprochement against Great Britain since he expected the contradictions between London and Moscow to become more acute after the war. Following the defeat of Germany, with France and Italy weakened, the USSR will remain the sole continental Great Power.
Maisky thought that the colonial question would provide incredibly fertile ground for Anglo-American contradictions. The United States would practice a new type of "dynamic imperialism" which would challenge the Great Britain’s "weakening conservative imperialism" in its colonies. Maisky emphasized that the Soviet Union did not pay careful attention to this question, which would be one of the most important issues after the war. So it was necessary to be prepared. Furthermore, it was highly likely that the development of conflicts between London and Washington in the colonial world would depend of the Soviet Union's position. Maisky did not develop precise proposals about the Middle East. He just underlined that this area was a favorable ground upon which to strengthen the Soviet influence. In his mind, this goal should be a priority of Soviet diplomacy after the war.
Maisky’s reflections should be seen as the background to the Soviet’s efforts to formulate a policy towards the Arab world and Palestine. In the Middle East, traditionally dominated by Great Britain, Moscow could support either the Arab national movement, on the Zionist project of a Jewish State in Palestine.
Absent from the Middle East since 1917, the Soviet Union could not play a significant role without a diplomatic network. Moscow chose to open its first embassy in Cairo in 1943. Ivan Maisky was the architect of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Soviet Union and Egypt. Soviet embassies were opened in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in 1944. Moscow's representatives would meet local actors, obtain first hand information, and exert influence.
The Arab option meant support the project of a pan-Arab federation. Soviet diplomats were very suspicious of this idea. In 1943, the first secretary of the Soviet embassy in Ankara sent a report to Moscow stating that the pan-Arab federation was more the result of the will of the British than of the Arabs political circles. London promoted this project to strengthen its domination of the Middle East but the United States opposed this federation.17 Several weeks later, another diplomat argued that the Soviet attitude toward the creation of a pan-Arab federation should be negative: "It will strike a blow to our interests."18 Soviet diplomacy interpreted the development of a pan-Arab movement not only as an expression of Anglo-American rivalry but also as a tool to stop the Soviets from developing any influence in the Middle East. However, after the creation of the Arab League in 1945, the Soviet ambassador in Baghdad suggested that criticism against it should be softened, as the Arab League was popular among the public opinion. It would be more fruitful, he argued, to try to turn the League towards adopting Soviet interests. But Moscow remained suspicious of this British inspired organization. In 1945, the Soviet Union had no "Arab policy." In the Palestinian case what could be a pro-Arab policy? For the Soviets the question was really about whether or not Moscow would support the creation of a Jewish state.
Despite its hostility towards the Arab League, the Soviet Union still did not join the Zionist side. Soviet diplomats believed that the cost of such a choice would outweigh the benefits. In 1943, a first Soviet diplomatic report indicated that the Soviet Union should not support the Zionist project because such a move could be interpreted as an attack against the British Empire. However, it underlined the illusion of Jewish-Arab coexistence in the frame of a power dominated by the Arabs.19
In November 1944, the MID's Middle East Department sent a memorandum to the deputy Commissar of foreign affairs, V. Dekanozov, about the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine:
Zionist organizations in Palestine are making every effort to establish links with our missions in the Middle East, reckoning that they will gain the support of the USSR for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. However rendering such support will undoubtedly evoke an unfavorable reaction from the Arab population, not only in Palestine but in all other Arab countries. Moreover, the British, in view of the recent assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo are at present disinclined to promise anything which would alter the existing status of Palestine as mandated territory. We have considerable property interests in Palestine, namely that of the former Russian government, the Ecclesiastical Mission and the Palestine Society, which ought to be returned to the Soviet state. A successful resolution of this question can be reached only if the British attitude is favourable, since they have charge of this property at present. Taking account of this, it would not be to our advantage at present to make any promises of support for the Jews, which the British would take as a move against them. 20
Clearly, the Soviets did not want to strike a blow at the British Empire before the end of war. In their report, the diplomats did not note any ideological opposition to Zionism, their position was more tactical than based upon principles. Yet the contacts between Soviet diplomats and Zionist representatives continued. In August 1944, during a meeting with Nahum Goldmann, the Soviet ambassador in Mexico, K. Umanski, declared that personally as a "Russian and a Jew", not as ambassador, he believed that his country would support a Jewish state in Palestine.21 The representative of the Jewish Agency in Cairo, Eliahu Epstein, who had met several times with the Soviet counselor during the summer 1944, Daniil Solod, had the impression that Moscow "want to know more about us than they did in past". He recommended to Ben Gurion to pursue the relations with the USSR "even if these ties have so far produced meager concrete results." 22
The Palestinian issue was not officially on the agenda of the Yalta Conference. According to various sources, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had a discussion about it but the versions of what occurred are contradictory.23 Another sign of Moscow's growing interest in the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine was the Soviet vote in favor of a resolution passed at the Conference of the World Federation of Trade Unions which took place in London in February 1945. This resolution claimed that the United Nations had a responsibility to protect Jews the world over against oppression, discrimination, and displacement and that the Jewish people must be allowed to continue to construct a national homeland in Palestine.24 However, the Soviets vote in favor of this resolution did not mean that Moscow supported the creation of a Jewish State. As the Soviet consul in Beirut said to a Zionist delegation, "the Soviet government is not becoming pro-Zionist, it will clarify its position when the Palestine question eventually comes up at the United Nations." 25
When the war came to an end, Moscow had not yet taken an official position on the future of Palestine. The report on the Palestine issue by Litvinov's commission shows that the Soviets had opted for a change in policy. Instead of the British mandate system, the commission proposed establishing a Soviet temporary trusteeship until a more radical solution of the problem was found as, the USSR according to the committee, was free of both Arab and Jewish influence. "If the Soviet claim is rejected, then the question inevitably arises of the transfer of Palestine to the collective trusteeship of the three states—the USSR, the US and Great Britain."26 But this proposal had no chance of being accepted by London and Washington. Neither western power would countenance the USSR’s interfere in the Palestine issue. During the conference of ministers of foreign affairs held in London from September 11 to October 2, Molotov suggested to Ernst Bevin the withdrawal of Soviet troops in Northern Iran in exchange for the withdrawal of British forces in Egypt and Palestine. Bevin rejected Molotov's proposals. 27
1946 proved to be a turning point for the Soviet policy on the Palestinian problem. Despite the fact that United States and Great Britain kept the USSR from playing a significant role in the Palestine issue, the Soviets were determined to come back into the game by others means. The new tactic was based on the very well known Soviet policy of both trying to destabilize the Western powers and trying to "exploit imperialist contradictions."
Molotov believed that Palestine was an issue that divided London and Washington. In 1946, N. Novikov, the Soviet ambassador to Washington (who had opened the Soviet mission in Cairo in 1943) dispatched to Moscow a "long telegram"—as had George F. Kennan on the other side few months before—about US foreign policy. In fact, Molotov was the real inspiration for this hard line text that described US foreign policy as "reflecting the imperialist tendencies of American monopolistic capital" and "characterized in the postwar period by a striving for world supremacy."28 According to Novikov, Great Britain "faces enormous economic and political difficulties" due to the war. "The foundations of the British Empire were appreciably shaken and crises arose, for example in India, Palestine, and Egypt."29 While the United States and Great Britain had reached an agreement on the Far East, Novikov emphasized, they failed to do so in the Near East where "the United States is not interested in providing assistance and support to the British Empire in this vulnerable point but rather in its own more thorough penetration of the Mediterranean basin and the Near East, to which the United States is attracted by the area's natural resources, primarily oil."30 In this context, Novikov considered Palestine as "an example of the very acute contradictions in the policy of the United States and England in the Near East." The US demand to permit the immigration of 100,000 Jewish displaced persons was not, he stated, the result of sympathy for the Zionist cause but "signifies that American capital wishes to interfere in Palestinian affairs and thus penetrate the economy. The selection of a port in Palestine as one of the terminal points of the American oil pipeline explains a great deal regarding the foreign policy of the United States on the Palestine question."31 The Soviet diplomat concluded, "The Near East will become a center of Anglo-American contradictions that will explode the agreements now reached between the United States and England."32 But he pointed out that the strengthening of US positions in the Near East signified the emergence of a new threat to the security of the southern regions of the Soviet Union. Despite this danger, these Anglo-American “contradictions” created an opportunity for Moscow to come back into the Middle East game. The Kremlin decided to put the Jewish displaced persons issue to its own use as this question was a major source of tension between Truman and Attlee, and between London and the Zionist leaders. Ultimately they hoped that western public opinion could undermine the British position.
From 1945 to 1948, the number of Jewish displaced persons waiting in Allied refugee camps in Germany and Austria increased from 70,00 to 250,000. Officially, most of these people came from Poland. But actually they had been repatriated from the USSR. In July 1945, according to an agreement between the Soviet Union and Poland, all Poles (Jews and non Jews) living in USSR, who had been Polish citizens before 19 September 1939 could go back to their homeland. More than 150,000 Polish Jews, living in Soviet Central Asia could benefit from this agreement .33 According to Yaacov Ro'i, before repatriation began there were approximately 50,000 Jews in Poland 34. From 6 July to the 31 December 1945, 22,058 Polish Jews left the Soviet Union35 for Poland and 173,420 more left between 1 January to 1 August 1946 when repatriation ended.36 Altogether, almost 200,000 Polish Jews left the Soviet Union in 1946, and 150 000 Jews left Poland for the Western occupation zones in Germany and Austria.37 Originally, the Soviet Union organized the repatriation of Polish Jews so as to able to participate in the reconstruction of Poland. This despite the opposition of the General Secretary of the Polish communist party, Wladislaw Gomulka, who was aware of the hostile feelings of the Polish population towards the Jews.38 If the reconstruction of Poland had been the sole goal of the Kremlin, the repatriation had to cease because of the massive departure to the DP's camps. Nothing like that happened. Moreover, as a result of the pogrom at Kielce in July 1946 and others anti-Semitic events, there was a new wave of westward emigration: between June and September 1946, 63 000 Jews left Poland 39.
Such mass emigration from areas under the Soviet Army’s control were not possible without its explicit or tacit agreement. A report by Lt-General Golubev sent to the MID confirms that these migration movements were carefully followed by Moscow. The report indicated that the Soviets were aware that Polish Jews wanted to travel to Palestine through Czechoslovakia, the Soviet zone of Austria and the American zone of occupation in Germany.40 MID officials sent this information to the deputy minister of Foreign affairs V. Dekanozov recommending that no Soviet diplomat "should become involved in any matters to do with the departure of Jews to Palestine."41
The growing number of displaced persons in Allied camps required a solution to be found. While the doors of United States were closed to mass emigration, these survivors of Holocaust had no choice but to go to Palestine. Washington favored this solution while London was against it so as not to alienate the Arab world, highly desirable situation for the Kremlin to play its favorite game: dividing the "imperialist powers".
Despite the fact that, officially the USSR remained hostile to mass Jewish emigration to Palestine.42 Moscow, actually contributed to increasing the Jewish displaced persons population even though the wave of anti-Semitism in Poland, the destruction of their homes and the loss of their families was the immediate cause. From the Polish government’s perspective, helping these Jews to immigrate to a Jewish state would eliminate the need to deal with claims from Jews returning to Poland for their property, which was now in the hands of Poles. Polish support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was also due to that fact that Polish communist authorities in their search for international legitimacy and support, in particular for Poland's post-war boundaries, hope that the Jewish Agency and the future Israel could lobby the United States on behalf of the Polish government. 43
In 1948, 220,000 of 250,000 displaced persons came from the Soviet sphere of influence: Poland (150,000), Czechoslovakia (5,000), Romania (40,000), and Hungary (25,000). Out of the 250,000 Jewish DP, 142,000 went to Palestine.44 Thus, the Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Palestine issue, as David Wahl, an American Zionist leader, reported in a letter to the Rabbi Silver: "Were I to review my experience of the past year and the half with the displaced persons problem, I would have to report in all fairness that it was the cooperation of the Soviet government in repatriating many thousands of Polish Jews which made it possible to build up the Jewish DP population now in Germany from 70,000 at war's end, to almost a quarter of million at the present time, and certainly no one will gainsay that it is the pressure of this large Jewish DP population which is of an inestimable value to the Zionist cause with respect to increasing immigration to Palestine and building towards a Jewish majority in Palestine." 45
In a memorandum prepared by the Near East department of the Soviet UN delegation in March 1947, the Soviet Union did not envisaged the creation of a Jewish State but a "single independent democratic Palestine which ensures that the peoples living there will enjoy equal national and democratic rights."46 In other words, the USSR supported the binational solution, which was rejected by the Zionist camp excepting the Jewish Palestinian communists, the Hashomer Hatsair and some personalities. The Arab Palestinian communists were in favor of coexistence with the Jews in a single state but they refused to share power in a binational framework. Moscow gave up on the UN trusteeship solution because "neither the Arabs nor the Jews will agree" to it. In the days prior to Gromyko's speech, the Soviet position did not change, even on the immigration issue since the Jewish question in Europe could not be resolved by immigration to Palestine but "only with the complete eradication of all the roots of fascism and full democratization of Western European countries." 47
On 28 April 1947, a Special Session of the General Assembly of the UN opened in New York. The deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrei Gromyko received new instructions from Moscow to prepare his speech. He took a completely new line. Considering that during the World War II "the Jewish people experienced unparalleled disaster and suffering, one must take account of the needs of a people which has experienced such suffering." Gromyko was told he should propose two different solutions: first, the creation of a binational state or second, the partition of Palestine if the first one proved to be impracticable in view of the deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations. 48
In the days preceding Gromyko's speech, Soviet diplomats in Washington and New York asked for information and material from American Jewish and Zionist organizations.49 On 14 May 1947, Andrei Gromyko gave one of the most surprising speeches in the history of Soviet diplomacy. The representative of a resolute anti-Zionist ideology made a speech, which could have been made by a brilliant advocate of the Zionist cause. Moreover, this apparatchik of Soviet bureaucracy described the situation of Jews in Europe in a highly emotional way:
During the last war, the Jewish people underwent exceptional sorrow and suffering. Without any exaggeration, this sorrow and suffering are indescribable. It is difficult to express them in dry statistics on the Jewish victims of the fascist aggressors. The Jews in territories where the Hitlerites held sway were subjected to almost complete physical annihilation. (...) Large numbers of the surviving Jews of Europe were deprived of their countries, their homes and their means of existence. Hundred of thousands of Jews are wandering about in various countries of Europe in search of means of existence and in search of shelter. A large number of them are in camps for displaced persons and are still continuing to undergo to great privations.
Then, Gromyko explained why the Jewish people had the right to establish its own State:
Past experience, particularly during World War II, shows that no Western European state was able to provide adequate assistance for the Jewish people in defending its rights and its very existence from the violence of the Hitlerites and their allies. This is an unpleasant fact, but unfortunately, like all other facts, it must be admitted. [This fact] (...) explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own state. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realize this aspiration." 50
Thus, Gromyko exposed the Soviet position on Palestine : the establishment of a democratic Arab-Jewish state or the partition of Palestine into two independent states.
Although, officially the Soviet Union was not in favor of the partition, the Gromyko's speech was an unexpectedly radical move. The deputy minister of Foreign Affairs used such expressions like "Jewish people" denied by Lenin and Stalin since the very beginning of the Bolshevik party. Zionist leaders such as Abba Eban welcomed the new Soviet orientation: "Such a position was an incredible opportunity; in a moment all of our plans on the discussion at the UN were completely changed."51 But they did not have any guarantee as to whether the USSR would actually stand for the partition. The beginning of the Cold War, specifically the growing tension with Western powers potentially could change everything. Even American diplomats believed that in the end Moscow would support the Arab side.52 But during the summer of 1947, Soviet diplomats sent some positive signs to the Zionist representatives. Thus, the first secretary of the Soviet embassy in Washington, M. Vavilov stated to E. Epstein that the Soviet government was well aware of the Yishuv capitalist social structure but believed that the Jews were building a peaceful, democratic and progressive community in Palestine.53 He also emphasized that the Soviet Government was satisfied with the reaction of the Jews all over the world to Gromyko's speech. Clearly as during World War II, Moscow expected to gain influence in the Jewish world public opinion, and especially with American Jewry, at the very moment when growing tension between the East and West would lead to the division of the world into two blocks.
In September, Epstein asked a member of Soviet UN delegation, S. Tsarapkin, if Moscow would vote for the binational solution supported by the minority of the UNSCOP (India, Iran, and particularly Yugoslavia). "Not necessarily," replied Tsarapkin54. Actually, the decision had been made as early as April, as Molotov stated to Vyshinskii on 30 September 1947. He instructed his deputy minister "not to raise any objection to the opinion of the majority of the committee on the partition of Palestine" and "not to object to recommendations passed unanimously by the committee about the mandate, the granting of independence to Palestine."55 The same day, Molotov sent further instructions in a coded telegram: Vyshinskii should "support the majority opinion (of UNSCOP)56, which corresponds to our basic opinion on this issue" and should keep in mind that Gromyko had suggested the creation of a binational state only for "tactical considerations since we did not want to take the initiative in the creation of a Jewish state."57 The Molotov's telegram makes clear that the Soviet decision to support the creation of a Jewish State had been taken at the end of April 1947. However, it is not possible to know whether Stalin and Molotov made this decision even earlier. The MID apparatus had been informed of it a few days before Gromyko's speech and was obliged to reconsider almost completely its previous line.
On 13 October, Tsarapkin delivered a speech at the UN explaining the Soviet choice in favour of partition. Two days later, Molotov instructed Vyshinskii to consult the Jews on "all important questions concerning Palestine, in particular on Jerusalem" and "to reduce the transition period, during which Britain must not be left in charge" instead transferring authority to the UN Security Council. Furthermore, the Soviet delegation should support the Uruguayan proposal to allow the emigration to Palestine of 30,000 Jewish children as well as a quota for their parents, who were in DP camps58, and the Colombian proposal allowing the immigration of 150,000 Jews.59 The delegation was also to support the Yugoslav proposal that all Jewish refugees now in camps on the island of Cyprus should be admitted to Palestine immediately, regardless of quotas.60 Henceforth, the USSR became an ardent supporter of the Zionist cause.
On 26 October 1947, Molotov sent to Stalin a 10 point memorandum, proposed by Vyshinskii, about the transition period between the end of the British mandate and the partition of Palestine. Vyshinkii favored a hasty British withdrawal from Palestine. He proposed ending to the mandate as of 1 January 1948 and replacing it with a Special Commission of the UN Security Council in charge of establishing the frontiers of the future Arab and Jewish States and setting up of Provisional Governments. This was probably a tactical proposal as the United States never would have accepted sharing responsibility for Palestine with the Soviet Union. Moscow, through this Special Commission was looking for a way to be directly involved in the Palestinian issue. According to Vyshinskii, all of these proposals were in accord with those of the Jewish Agency.61 Therefore, the Soviet Union and the Zionist movement were engaged in close cooperation.
On 29 November 1947, the USSR voted in favor of the plan to partition Palestine, creating a Jewish State and an Arab State. Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly passed with 33 in favor, 13 against and 10 abstentions, in particular Yugoslavia. The USSR also ensured votes by Belorussia, Ukraine, Poland and Czechoslovakia, which were necessary since a two-thirds majority was required to pass the resolution. Furthermore, the creation of Jewish State in Palestine would not have been possible without identical votes on the one hand of the United States and its allies and on the other hand of the Soviet Union and its satellites despite the escalating Cold War and the end of the Grand Alliance. In the new emerging bipolar order, the Zionist project could succeed thanks to the coincidence of interests of the two superpowers on the road to global competition. While during the war, the USSR was reluctant to undermine the British empire, the world's division into two antagonistic blocs in 1947 was creating a new situation. Therefore, weakening Great Britain and "exploiting the contradictions between London and Washington" were the Soviet’s new main goals. It should be pointed out that Soviet diplomacy endorsed this new line on the Palestinian issue at the end of April 1947, immediately after the Truman's speech to the Congress in March 1947 setting forth the containment policy and after the failure of the Council of minister of foreign affairs meeting in Moscow in April. The Palestine issue provided Moscow with an opportunity to strike a blow at a place of strategic importance to the British Empire as the Jewish DP issue was dividing the United States and Great Britain.
"They saved the country, I have no doubt of that. The Czech arms deal was the greatest help we then had, it saved us and without it I very much doubt if we could have survived the first month"62 . This statement of Ben Gurion, dated 1968, shows the importance of the Czech arms for the young Jewish state. After the UN session on Palestine issue in spring 1947, David Ben Gurion considered the acquisition of arms as an absolute priority. He dispatched the Haganah agents all over the world to buy military equipment in order to prepare the Jewish forces to the war. Their mission became hardly difficult when, in November 1947, the United States declared an arms embargo on Palestine and the neighbouring states. The American doors being closed, the chief of the Jewish Agency looked to Eastern European countries, in particular to Czechoslovakia. According to the Soviet and Israeli documents, at first Prague refused to sell arms to the Zionist movement. In a memorandum to Molotov, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, V. Zorin, stated that the "Czechs have refused to sell weapons to the Jewish Agency in Palestine, which made this request in November 1947"63 . The reason of this refusal : the parallel negotiations between Czechoslovakia and Egypt and Syria which also looked for buying arms.64 But the Soviet Union opposed to these talks : "Given the position we have adopted on the Palestine question, I suggest it would be possible to authorize Comrade Bodrov, when an opportunity arises, to draw Gottwald attention to the fact that the sale of weapons by the Czecoslovak government to the Arabs under present conditions, when the situation in Palestine is becoming more aggravated every day, could be used by the Anglo-Americans against the Soviet Union and the new democracies"65 . The Zionist leaders asked successfully to Moscow to intervene to stop the delivery of Czech arms to the Arabs 66 . However, the Czech motives to sell arms were more economic than political. In 1947, Czechoslovakia, destroyed by the war, was in a hardly situation since Stalin rejected to participate to the Marshall Plan. The arms deal would provided hard currency to the Czech economy. The communist coup in Prague in February 1948 did not have any negative effect on the negotiations with the Jewish Agency.
By the spring 1948, an airlift under the code name Balak had been organized to transport the military equipment to Palestine. The DC-3 took off from the Zatec air base, then stopped over at Podgorica in Yugoslavia or in Corsica and reached Ekron in Palestine. The Czech ministry of defence assigned a group of technicians to accompany the Messerschmitt to reconstruct it. All of these operations were conducted in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution declaring an arms embargo in Palestine. Moscow feared to be discovered. Thus, in a memorandum to the deputy minister Zorin, the chief of MID's Middle East Department, I. Bakulin advised to a confidential intervention in Prague and Belgrade to "let the Czechs and Yugoslavs know about the desirability of extending aid to the representatives of the State of Israel in the purchase and dispatch to Palestine of artillery and airplanes" and to conduct negotiations with the Israeli legation in Moscow after its establishment. Zorin answered to these suggestions that the Soviet Union could not "operate with such lack of caution. After all, we voted for a truce in Palestine. We must refrain from moves which could be used against us" 67. From December 1947 to 15 May 1948, the Jewish Agency purchased about 13 millions dollars heavy and light arms to Czechoslovakia. During the second half of 1948, Israel obtained a credit of a $ 12 millions to pay the arms. The Jewish state used up only $ 9 millions. The Jewish Agency and the Israeli government purchased about $ 22 millions of military supplies. Czechoslovakia organized also the training of Israeli pilots, paratroopers and pilots. This military cooperation continued until 1951.
As soon as they arrived in Moscow in September 1948, the Israeli diplomats opened talks with the Soviet authorities about a direct military aid. On 5 October 1948, the Israeli military attache, Yohanan Ratner, met the General Seraev. The conversation focused on the training questions. Ratner asked about Soviet military textbooks and possibilities of advanced courses for the Israeli officers 68. Few days later, during a conversation with General Aleksei Antonov, Ratner suggested officer-training courses and the supply of German equipment that had fallen into Soviet hands. Antonov asked a detailed list of the Israeli needs 69. On 7 November , Ben Gurion sent a list to Ratner who submitted it on 11 November to Ivan Bakulin. The Jewish state wanted to purchase in particular 45 T-34 tanks, 50 fighters planes and anti-tanks and anti-aircrfat guns 70. Bakulin stated that he will transmit the Israeli requests but emphasizing the difficulties due to the UN embargo : "True others are violating this resolution. But if arms supplies from us are discovered, there will be an uproar" 71. After this meeting, Bakulin sent a memorandum to Zorin, suggesting to reject the request officially because of UN embargo 72. Golda Meyerson, the Israeli ambassador, asked again about this issue to Vyshinskii, before her departure to Jerusalem in April 1949. He answered that it was "a tricky and complex problem, which could lead to a number of difficulties 73. According to Meyerson, the Soviet minister said : "Suffice it for us to give a small pistol and it will be said that we gave you an atom bomb. Moreover, there will be no end of interpretations about the special dimension of this arrangement: an alliance between the Soviets and the State of Israel, which has one thing in common — Karl Marx, the socialist and the Jew; an alliance to attack and destroy the world" 74. The Israeli request was not sent to Stalin as Bakulin stated to Gromyko, considering that it "had been raised by the Jews during the war in Palestine. At present, since the end of the war and the stabilization of the situation in Palestine, the Jews have not renewed them. Reckoning that the Jews did not make these military requests seriously, we think it advisable to delay replying to them, and to raise with the higher authorities [Stalin] only the matter of credit" 75. Actually, the Soviet Union did not want to be involved in a direct military cooperation with Israel.
The Israeli leaders considered that the future of their state depended of the traditional attributes of power: territory and population. Thanks to the Czech military support they could expanded the Israeli territory; thanks to the mass immigration from Eastern European countries they could won the demographic war.
A distinction must be made between the periods before and after the creation of Israel. Prior 14 May 1948, the Jewish immigration in Palestine was largely illegal. From 1946 to mid-1948, 31 566 of the 61 023 immigrated illegally in Palestine. After May 1948, Israel is free to conduct its immigration policy. By this time, the support to the Jewish immigration strengthened the military and demographic position of Israel.
Prior 1948, the Soviet Union let the governments Eastern Europe under its influence negotiate with the Jewish Agency emissaries. Two-thirds of the immigrants came from Poland and Romania 76. In 1945, even before the end of war, Nahum Goldmann sent a letter to Andrei Gromyko in Washington requesting exit visas for Jewish Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian citizens who had their certificates to emigrate from the British administration in Palestine 77. In mid-1946, the agents of the Mossad, opened negotiations with the Romanian authorities, in particular with Ana Pauker in order to gain a consent to large-scale Jewish emigration. Bucharest agreed to allow 50 000 Jews to leave on the condition that the emigrants give up their property and their money. Moreover, the Mossad had to pay a "poll tax" for each Jew leaving Romania 78.
In May 1946, a first ship of 1700 Jewish immigrants, Max Nordau, left Constanza to Palestine. At the end of 1947, the Mossad tried to organize the illegal immigration of 15 000 Jews embarked on Pan York and Pan Crescent. Under the pressure of the United States the two ships could not leave from Constanza but from Burgas in Bulgaria 79. The Mossad negotiated also with Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland. Out of 60 000 immigrants arrived in Palestine between 1946 and 1948, 80 % came from Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
After 15 May 1948, there was no more restriction to the immigration in Israel. Therefore, a demographic support means a contribution to the Israeli war effort against the neighbouring Arab states. The Soviet Union stand against the limitations on Jewish immigration during a UN Security Council session : "The question of immigration into the State of Israel is the domestic affair of the State of Israel (...) Some delegates at the Council have argued this immigration threatens the security of Arab States. I want to point out first of all that we do not know of a single instance of incursion into the territory of another state by the armed forces of Israel except out of self-defence when they were compelled to repulse the attacks of the armed forces of other states on Israeli territory. This was self-defence in the full sense of the word" 80. From mid-1948 to the end of 1951, more than 300 000 Jews from Eastern European countries arrived in Israel. It represented half of all immigrants:
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The negotiations with Romania were an highly difficult issue. According to the agreement concluded between Ana Pauker and the Zionist representative Mordechai Namir in July 1948, 5 000 Romanian Jews per month were permitted to emigrate. But Ana Pauker did not mentioned to Namir that restrictive criteria had been established. The secret and unpublished criteria had been issued in March 1948 prohibiting emigration to Jews who were skilled workers, doctors and engineers. Notwithstanding Ana Pauker opposed any such restrictions, this decision had been taken due to the deterioration of Romanian economy. While initially the emigration was limiting to unassimilated, impoverished small traders, in 1947 all social groups began opting for emigration to an unprecedented degree. The General Secretary of Romanian Communist Party Gheorghui Dej's faction stand against the emigration of Jews practicing vitally needed professions within the Romanian economy 82.
The Romanian emigration ceased at the end of 1948. Moshe Shertok raised this question during a conversation with Vyshinskii in Paris on December 1948 during a UN session. The Israeli minister tried to convince him of the importance of this immigration : "This our largest reservoir of pioneering potential" 83. And Shertok asked Vyshinskii to be coherent with the Soviet policy: "I do not want to make things easier for myself by hiding the difficulties from you. The question is whether this issue is reconcilable with the regime, but we assume that if there is a basic position favours Israel, then this permission to emigrate should be accepted". Vyshinskii replied: "I have understood your position and I consider it to be justified from your point of view". But he added: "You say: you need these people and Romania can say the same thing we need these people" 84. Then, he stated to Shertok that his demand may be transmitted to Stalin: "You mentioned at the outset of your remarks that you are not sure, or that you would like to be sure, that when we took this stand, we did so bearing in mind all the conclusions it entails. I cannot comment officially in this regard in the name of government, but I will say frankly in my own name : as far as I am concerned, I cannot say that I have drawn all the conclusions. What you say requires study, consideration and decision. Your remarks will be conveyed to the government, to Molotov, and perhaps even higher" 85. "Even higher", could only mean Stalin. The interpretation of these last words is uneasy. In his report, Shertok wondered whether the Soviet minister "went too far". However, the Israelis diplomats would refer to it during their further conversations with their Soviet counterparts. In April 1949, before returning to Israel, Golda Meyerson raised again the Romanian issue with Vyshinskii. He replied that Romania and Hungary were young countries and they needed the Jews because they "outdo all others in their loyalty to the new regimes" emphasizing : "Half a million loyal citizens is no small thing" 86. But, Vyshinskii omitted to report these words to Stalin 87. During 1949, the Israeli diplomats in Bucharest continue the negotiations but without success. Actually, the Jewish Romania emigration had been resumed at the end of 1949 but more due to internal factors than Soviet pressure. Considering the opened agitation of Romanian Jewry because of the emigration's restriction, Bucharest decided to open the gates : 47 041 Romanian Jews emigrated to Israel in 1950 and 40 625 in 1951. The stalinist minister of foreign affairs Ana Pauker was the most fervent partisan of unrestricted Jewish emigration from Romania. But in 1952, the mass emigration halted again. It resulted of a new purge on the top leadership. Ana Pauker had been arrested in February 1953 and accused of serving as an agent of international Zionism 88.
The Israeli diplomats failed to negotiate the mass departure of the Hungarian Jews. From mid-1948 to the end of 1949, about 10 000 of them emigrated illegally to Israel. Thus, there was no global and centralized policy decided in Moscow of Jewish mass emigration from Eastern European countries. The policy and the chronology were not the same in Bucharest as in Warsaw, in Sofia or in Budapest. The Soviet Union let the popular democracies to conduct their own policy. The emigration issue was highly sensitive to the new Soviet oriented regimes. As the very restriction was the rule, it could be problematic to admit the Jewish emigration and to refuse it to the others citizens reluctant to participate to the "construction of socialism". It could harboured the anti-Semitism, the feelings of frustration and also weakened the fragile legitimacy of the regimes under the Soviet control. It makes no doubt that the anti-Semitic character of the purges during the Stalin's last years should be partly explained by the necessity to reinforce the national legitimacy of the popular democracies. By instigating and exploiting the latent anti-Semitism, the Soviet leaders tried to divert the popular miscontent on the high-ranking Jews — like Ana Pauker or Rudolf Slansky and others — at the top leadership of the Party and the State.
The emigration of the Soviet Jews was strictly prohibited since the very beginning. According to the Soviet data, 500 persons were permitted to emigrate to Israel between 1945 and 1955 89. The Israeli data indicates that 131 Jews left Soviet Union to the Jewish state between 1948 and 1955 but only 9 before Stalin's death in 1953 90. According to a memorandum sent to Molotov and Vyshinskii in April 1952, out of 65 applications received by the Militia between 1948 and 1951, only 10 were granted 91. As the Israeli diplomats arrived in Moscow in September 1948, the Soviet leaders made to understand that the Soviet Jews were not concerned by the emigration to Israel. During her first meeting with the deputy minister V. Zorin, Golda Meyerson stated that "the Jewish problem could be resolved only by a large Jewish immigration to Israel". Zorin disagreed since most of the Jews would not emigrate to Israel and would remain in their countries. In the USSR, a socialist country, the Jews will never suffer of persecution and discrimination and in the other countries the Jewish problem would be solved only by struggling for democratization. The same day, during another conversation with Golda Meyerson, the chief of the Near East Department, I. Bakulin said that the immigration would concerned only the Jews of the "non-democratic countries", i. e. of the capitalist world 92. However the Israeli leaders avoided to raise directly the problem of the mass immigration of Soviet Jews until 1951, tackling only cautiously the question of the families reunification 93. They preferred to focus on the issue of the East European Jewry as long as it was possible to negotiate. They also feared to loose the Soviet support 94.
An other aspect of the Soviet Union's contribution to the demographic Israeli war effort was its noticeable support of the Jewish state's on the fate of the 700 000 Arab Palestinians expulsed or exiled from the territories gained by the Jewish forces. The mass forced departure of the Palestinians allowed Israel to expand and homogenize its territory. The Soviet press ignored the massacre of the Arab village of Deir Yassin committed by Irgun and Lehi groups on 9 April 1948. During the UN debate, the Soviet delegates denied all responsibility to Israel about the Palestinian peoples fate and rejected it to Great Britain and Arab countries. They also supported the Israeli position rejecting the Bernadotte's plan proposals of right to return of financial compensation. Israel demanded that this question would be raised in the course of peace negotiations. Vyshinskii and Molotov agreed with this position 95. In a letter to Golda Meyerson, M. Shertok underlined that "all my talks with the Russians" indicated "the absence of any interest in, or concern about, the fate of the Arab refugees, utter contempt for the progressive forces in the Arab states, and so forth 96. In December 1948, the Soviet Union voted against the UN General Assembly resolution 194-III according to which the refugees wishing to return to their homes should be permitted or be compensated for loss or damage to property.
As Moscow provided a political, military and demographic support to Israel, the Soviet alliance with the Zionist movement was large and multidimensional. It could be characterized as a strategic alliance. Why the anti-Zionist Soviet leaders concluded this unexpected alliance ? It could be explained only by both geopolitical and ideological factors.
The geopolitical dynamic of the Cold War constitutes the first explaining factor of the Soviet support to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In the emerging bipolar Cold War order, there were no peripheries for Great Powers, as said Kenneth Waltz 97. The Mediterranean basin and the Near East constituted a weaken point of the USSR as it had been almost absent since 1917 from these areas which are close to its southern borders. By 1943, Moscow tried to come back. The support to the Zionist cause could provided three benefits.
First, it offered an opportunity to make a breakthrough in the Near East and to change the balance and the distribution of power. The loss of Palestine, after India, would dealt a hard blow to the British Empire as indicated a draft memorandum in the summer 1947 to the creation of the Cominform 98.
Secondly, Soviet Union could played its favourite game : dividing the capitalist powers while the Cold War intensified. Moscow hoped also to gain the world Jewish public opinion. This policy which had been successful during the war thanks to the Jewish Antifascist Committee presided by S. Mikhoels, would weaken the anti-Soviet offensive in the United States and Great Britain.
Thirdly, the support to the Jewish state created tensions between the Zionist movement and its British and American protectors. Since the end of war, the conflict exacerbated between Zionist and British leaders — the terrorist attacks against the British forces thrown the gap between them.
If the Soviet Union would achieve to weak Great Britain in the Middle East, the Zionist movement was the sole capable of doing it. The Zionist leaders were determined to get their own state and not to miss an historical opportunity since thousands of candidates to emigrate were waiting in refugees camps in Europe and in Cyprus. On the other hand, the USSR was suspicious of most of the Arab leaders considered as British agents. Despite the Arab communist parties, the Soviet exerted a very limited influence in the Arab countries.
This Cold War dynamic rooted in a long time geopolitical dynamic. As at Tsarist times, Great Britain remained the main enemy in the Middle East. As Silvio Pons has pointed out "Soviet political culture had a tendency to conceive of the future as a repetition of the past" 99. After 1945, the Soviet Union renewed with the old "Great Game". By 1944, Moscow tried to launch an offensive in Iran 100, and then in Turkey but failed to destabilize the Western powers. After the independence of India in 1947, the center of gravity of the "Great Game" moved to the Near East. But this long rooted geopolitical dynamic had been worked by the ideological factors which structured the Stalinist perception of the world. The stalinist leaders considered Great Britain both as an ideological enemy and a geopolitical rival, a capitalist and imperialist power as Stalin said to Dimtrov even before the end of war in January 1945: "The crisis of capitalism found expression in a division of the capitalists into two factions — one fascist, the other democratic. An alliance came about between us and the democratic faction of the capitalists because they were concerned not to tolerate Hitler's rule, since its harshness would have driven the working class to extremes and so to overthrow of capitalism itself. We are now with one faction against the other, but in the future we shall be against that capitalist faction too" 101. The Soviet perception of the international relations was based on the profound hostility to the capitalist world, grounded on the dualistic friend/enemy categories, rooted in the Soviet leaders conflict-based political culture. The dynamics of Soviet foreign policy were based on a desire to compete with the enemy camp on all levels for the global hegemony.
For all of these factors, the Zionist movement appeared to be the best ally as possible to the Soviet Union in the Middle East. The Soviet-Israeli alliance continued until 1949 and then began slowly to deteriorate to the deep crisis in 1952 and the breaking off of the diplomatic relations in the very last days of Stalin's life. But the end of the alliance was due more to Soviet internal factors ? the antisemitic campaign and the struggle for power during the last Stalin’s years ? than to a new strategy of alliance in the Middle East which would occur only by 1955 with the rapprochement between Khrushchev and Nasser.
He holds a PhD in political science titled "The USSR and the Israeli-Arab Conflict 1941-1956". He is a lecturer at the Institut d'etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences-Po). He published two books Staline, Israel et les Juifs (Paris, PUF, 2001) and (with William Karel) Israel-Palestine. Une terre deux fois promise (Paris, Editions du Rocher, 1998). He has written numerous articles on Soviet and Russian foreign policy and also on Soviet Jews. He is member of the Editorial board of the French journal Le courrier des pays de l'Est.
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