Notions of race and racial competition pervaded Zionist thinking in the early to mid-twentieth century, a time when “volkisch conceptions were firmly established among Zionist intellectuals.”[i] Raphael Falk notes how “Zionist writers appealed to biological conceptions of race and nation and displayed an awareness of their responsibility not only to serve this biologically circumscribed ethnic group but also to propagate and improve it.”[ii] Many Zionists viewed evolutionary theory “as a conceptual framework for understanding the detrimental effects of Diaspora life and argued for the positive benefits that would accrue to Jews in Palestine.” Weikart observes that many “Jewish physicians, feminists and sexual reformers embraced eugenics,” and that leading Jewish anthropologists “embraced scientific racism” in the early twentieth century.”[iii]
Several leading Jewish physicians and educators became flag bearers of a campaign to promote the eugenic aspects of Zionism. In 1922, the Zionist physician Mordechai Bruchov emphasized that: “In the struggle of nations, in the clandestine ‘cultural’ struggle of one nation with another, the one wins who provides for the improvement of the race, to the benefit of the biological value of the progeny.”[iv] Parental guidance articles and books published in Palestine from the 1920s emphasized “the purity of the race and the quality of children required to improve the nation,” which “subsequently shifted to the need to increase the birthrate in order to catch up with the high birthrate of the neighboring nations.”[v] Jewish biologist Fritz S. Bodenheimer (1897–1959), the son of one of Theodor Herzl’s closest allies, likewise stressed “the external threat posed by the faster reproductive rate of the Arab population.”[vi] Child care in Israel has long been conceived “as part of a national project” where “every mother who raised her child in Israel, in the past and at present, is conscious that this is not only her personal task, but rather a national task the climax of which – at the age of eighteen – is the recruitment of the Zionist baby to the nation’s army.”[vii]
Jewish Attitudes to Darwinism after the Advent of National Socialism in Germany
The ascent of the National Socialists to power in Germany in 1933 “had a profound impact” on Jewish thought and speech regarding evolution and race. Concluding that hierarchic social-Darwinian race theory was antithetical to their ethnic interests, many diasporic Jews publicly abandoned previously espoused racialist beliefs grounded in evolutionary theory, and worked to discredit that the concept of race among biologists and social scientists. Cantor and Swetlitz note how “social and cultural explanations became prominent in the social sciences, where Jews continued to work in large numbers.”[viii] The overthrow of hierarchic Darwinian racial theory was, as Kevin MacDonald explains in Culture of Critique, a campaign by Jewish activists that had nothing to do with real science, with the “shift away from Darwinism as the fundamental paradigm of the social sciences” resulting from “an ideological shift rather than the emergence of any new empirical data.”[ix] For strongly committed Jews, truth takes a back seat to ethnic interests.
A chapter is devoted to Jewish anthropologist Ignaz Zollschan (1877–1948), who exemplifies this shift. A leading early Jewish advocate for Darwinian race science, he changed his public views “in response the threat posed by Nazi race theory,” and emerged “as a political activist who helped to orchestrate international opposition to Nazi ideology.”[x] Zollschan worried that by embracing racialist beliefs informed by Darwinian evolution, “Zionists were playing into the hands of anti-Semites, who had long demanded special laws for Jews. In effect this was throwing the Jew back into the ghetto.”[xi] In the 1920 and 1930s:
Zollschan was alert to the dangers of eugenics and increased his opposition to eugenics and to anti-Semitic racism. In 1925 he visited the Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas in New York to collaborate on X-ray investigations into the various races, having supported the use of X-rays to eradicate favus (a chronic skin infection) among East European Jewish children. Boas, who stressed culture over biology, convened a committee at Columbia University that addressed human anatomical and psychological characteristics with the aim of refuting racist prejudice. Zollschan subsequently used a memorandum drawn up by Boas in 1926 as a basis for intensified lobbying of leading intellectuals in Europe to refute anti-Semitic racism.[xii]
Zollschan advocated a twofold Jewish strategy: firstly, to “take a stand against anti-Semitic racial defamation” where he aggressively “refuted many stereotypes of Jews and the accusation that Jews damaged their host countries.”[xiii] He flatly denied, for instance, any link between Jews and financial corruption. His second goal was to “strengthen Jewish culture in order to ensure that Jewish identity would be sustained.”[xiv] From the 1920s onwards, he publically “adopted an anti-racialist stance, and played a major role in founding an international network of anthropologists to combat the threat of Nazi racism.”[xv] His campaign led him to espouse the view that Jews were a culture rather than a race. He did not, however, renounce his earlier views about the Jewish race; instead updating his views in response to Boas’ radical environmentalist theories.
During the 1930s Zollschan attempted to establish an international coalition of scientific experts to refute the scientific basis of Nazi race ideology, and formulated an antiracist manifesto he hoped would be signed by Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Aldous and Julian Huxley, the novelist J.B. Priestly, among others.[xvi] Huxley suggested including T.S. Eliot — “blithely overlooking Eliot’s expressions of disgust at Jewish peculiarities — for a public discussion on race.”[xvii] Jewish historian Charles Singer pointed out to Zollschan that “scientific views are not established by international committees,” and cautioned him that efforts to undermine the concept of race in general would undermine Zionism. Singer also warned that nothing could be worse for the prospects of such a “scientific” statement than “for it to appear to have behind it either a foreign or a Jewish motive power.”[xviii]
Zollschan heeded Singer’s advice, accepting the need to embed the pursuit of particular Jewish interests in a more universalistic message. Thus, in Racialism against Civilization (1942) he argued that racism was “not a problem that affected just the target group — the Jews — but was the common enemy to all religious, moral, and liberal political values.” Zollschan proposed that the National Socialist drive to force Jews back into the ghetto “did not just represent a threat to the existence of Jews, but who attacked the humanitarian basis of Western civilization.”[xix] This represented a complete reversal of his earlier, long-held, belief “that the ghetto sustained Jewish racial identity.”[xx]
A Top-Down Revolution
Zollschan’s efforts against National Socialist racial beliefs formed the basis for the UNESCO declarations on race and UN Conventions on the elimination of racial discrimination after 1945.[xxi] In 1949 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convened a panel of “scientists,” chaired by Ashley Montagu (born Israel Ehrenberg), to “produce a definitive verdict on race.” The panel, which include several Jews, including the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, consisted of “a team of ten scientists all of whom were recruited from the marginal group of anthropologists, sociologists and ethnographers affiliated with the scientifically marginalized groups of cultural anthropologists that were mostly students of Franz Boas at Colombia University in New York, and who perceived the race concept primarily as a social construct.”[xxii] The panel’s first met at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and Montagu claimed “only if our deliberations had taken place at Auschwitz or Dachau could there have been a more fitting environment to impress upon the committee members the immense significance of their work.”[xxiii] Montagu had a strong Jewish identity, stating that: “if you are brought up a Jew, you know that all non-Jews are anti-Semitic. . . . I think it is a good working hypothesis.”[xxiv] At that time UNESCO House was the former headquarters of the German military during its occupation of France during World War Two. Underpinning the words of the UNESCO declaration “was widespread revulsion at the Jewish Holocaust.”[xxv] Leftist academic Anthony Hazard notes that “a clear rejection of anti-Semitism seemed to underline the entire effort.”[xxvi]
The UNESCO panel’s statement insisted it would be best “to drop the term ‘race’ altogether,” since “for all practical purposes, ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth.” Montagu and his colleagues ended their “definitive statement on race” with an endorsement of the idea of a common humanity: “Biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood; for man is born with drives towards co-operation. … In this sense, every man is his brother’s keeper.”[xxvii] Once again the pursuit of specific Jewish interests was embedded in a pretended universal benevolence. UNESCO’s Montagu-drafted “definitive verdict on race,” was published with a press release with the headline: “No biological justification for race discrimination, say world scientists: Most authoritative statement on the subject.”[xxviii] The New York Times reported on the statement under a headline proclaiming: “No Scientific Basis for Race Bias Found by World Panel of Experts.”[xxix]
The UNESCO Statement on Race basically amounted to the imposition of a Jewish ethno-political agenda onto the global polity — with devastating consequences for the interests of Europeans and European-derived peoples. With this new agenda now in place at the highest level, and with the demonization and marginalization of dissenters, it was almost inevitable in the decades following Germany’s defeat that remaining policies constructed on the basis of racialist thought and identity would be progressively dismantled. The 1950 statement on race (which contributed to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, and several UN conventions on eliminating racial discrimination) was described by one sympathetic commentator as “the triumph of Boasian anthropology on a world-historical scale.”[xxx] British historian David Cannadine notes that, during the decades that followed, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand “abandoned their policies of racial discrimination, ended their restrictions on immigration … and embraced multiculturalism.”
Attitudes to evolutionary concepts in the post-war era were strongly colored by the Jewish backgrounds and commitments of Jewish biologists and anthropologists. Cantor and Swetlitz note, for example, that “some leading critics of the modern synthesis in evolutionary biology and sociobiology, including Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, were Jewish, and it has been claimed their opposition stemmed in part from concern these fields are likely to encourage anti-Semitism because they emphasize genetic determinism and evolutionary progress, which often embed notions of racial hierarchy.”[xxxi] Kevin MacDonald observes that Gould exemplified the “conflation of personal and ethno-political interests in the construction of science.” Gould falsely claimed that hereditarian views on intelligence had been prominently used as justification for restricting Jewish immigration in the 1924 American immigration laws — laws he directly linked with “the Holocaust.” Gould’s career is perhaps the preeminent illustration of “how skill as a propagandist and ethnic activist can be combined with a highly visible and prestigious academic position to have a major influence on public attitudes in an area of research with great implications for public policy.”[xxxii]
Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin spearheaded opposition to the ideas of E.O. Wilson whose book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis inaugurated the field of sociobiology. Lewontin’s approach has been to selectively reject the findings of the traditional reductionist scientific method, insisting on a “hyper-purism that settles for nothing less than absolute certainty and absolutely correct methodology, epistemology, and ontology…. By adopting this philosophy of science, Lewontin is able to discredit attempts by scientists to develop theories and generalizations and thus, in the name of scientific rigor, avoid the possibility of any politically unacceptable scientific findings.”[xxxiii] While Lewontin portrays his efforts as motivated by a concern for scientific rigor, his tactical nihilism enables him to pursue an ethno-political agenda unencumbered by science.
The Boasian revolution in anthropology, taken up by Gould, Lewontin and numerous other Jewish academics, represents such a dramatic departure from preceding Jewish thinking about race, that an examination of earlier Jewish racial writing forces us “to reorient the way we think about the normative narrative of the Jewish past” according to which historians have “told the story of the relationship between Jews and race largely within the framework of victimhood,” whereby “racial science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was one of the chief weapons used against Jews.”[xxxiv] The abandonment of Darwinian race theory by Jewish anthropologists from the 1920s and 1930s necessitated obscuring the inherently racial nature of Judaism, in order to forestall charges of hypocrisy. Yet race remains “one of the building blocks of contemporary Jewish identity construction” and that “biological and genetic arguments possess a power for many Jews as they seek to explain to themselves and others just what it is that constitutes Jewishness.”[xxxv] Even though such thinking may have been submerged or made invisible for many decades, Jews still “think with blood” about Jewish belonging. University of Washington Professor Susan Glenn makes the point that: “Throughout all the de-racializing stages of twentieth century social thought, Jews have continued to invoke blood logic as a way of defining and maintaining group identity.”[xxxvi]
[i] Falk, “Zionism, Race & Eugenics,” 143.
[ii] Ibid., 138-9.
[iii] Weikart, “The Impact of Social Darwinism,” 107.
[iv] Falk, “Zionism, Race & Eugenics,” 151.
[v] Ibid., 152.
[vi] Ibid., 154.
[vii] Ibid., 152-53.
[viii] Cantor & Swetlitz, Jewish Tradition, 15.
[ix] Kevin MacDonald, K. B. (1998/2001) The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books, 2001), 20.
[x] Cantor & Swetlitz, Jewish Tradition, 91.
[xi] Weindling, “Evolution of Jewish Identity,” 124.
[xii] Ibid., 124-5.
[xiii] Ibid., 121.
[xiv] Ibid., 119.
[xv] Ibid., 117.
[xvi] Ibid., 128; 129.
[xvii] Ibid., 130.
[xviii] Ibid., 130-31.
[xix] Ibid., 133.
[xx] Ibid., 135.
[xxi] Ibid., 136.
[xxii] Poul Duedahl, “From racial strangers to ethnic minorities, On the socio-political impact of UNESCO, 1945-60.” Paper presented at 7th Annual International Conference on Politics and International Affairs in Athens, Greece, in 2009.
[xxiii] Anthony Q. Hazard, Postwar Anti-Racism: The United States, UNESCO, and “Race,”1945-1968 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 38.
[xxiv] MacDonald, Culture of Critique, 26.
[xxv] David Cannadine, The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 212.
[xxvi] Hazard, Postwar Anti-Racism, 39.
[xxviii] Duedahl, “From racial strangers.”
[xxix] Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 341.
[xxx] Robert Wald Sussman, The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 207.
[xxxi] Cantor & Swetlitz, Jewish Tradition, 21.
[xxxii] MacDonald, Culture of Critique, 33.
[xxxiii] MacDonald 1998/2001, p. 47
[xxxiv] Mitchell Hart, Jews and Race: Writings on Identity and Difference 1880-1940, Ed. Mitchell Hart (Waltham MA: Brandeis University Press, 2011), 14.
[xxxv] Ibid., 31-2.
[xxxvi] Ibid., 31.