Did Stalin create Israel? To the extent that any one individual can be held responsible for the creation of a state, it does seem, on the basis of the evidence presented by Mlechin, that Stalin has a better claim than any other individual to this particular honor. Why did he do it? Apparently it was a gamble in the context of the more assertive Soviet foreign policy that followed victory over Nazi Germany, made in the hope of establishing a lasting Soviet presence in the Middle East. It failed, but it can be seen as a precursor of similar and more successful efforts in the post-Stalin era, this time backing the other side in the Israel-Arab conflict. It does show that the standard view of Soviet penetration of the Third World as a post-Stalin development is not quite accurate.
The episode also helps us fill in a broad historical view of the nature of Zionism-Israel as an international phenomenon. What made possible the remarkable rise of the Zionist community from a small and vulnerable minority in Ottoman-ruled Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century to a nuclear-armed regional superpower in that century's last quarter? Many things, to be sure. The Holocaust had a decisive impact. But we should not underplay the significance of the Zionist movement's ideologically flexible and repeatedly successful search for great power patrons. As the relationship with one patron becomes less viable, a new patron is always found:
1. Britain with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, whose Mandate provided a roof for building an autonomous quasi-state (the Yishuv).
2. Stalin's Soviet Union played the crucial role in the creation and initial consolidation of an independent Zionist state.
3. France gave Israel nuclear weapons.
4. US support was crucial in creating a Greater Israel.
5. Next great power patron -- China, perhaps?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
It wasn't Harry Truman alone who supported the creation of Israel.Johnson's Russia List's Research and Analytical Supplement runs Stephen D. Shenfield's interesting review of Leonid Mlechin's book, Zachem Stalin sozdal Izrail? [Why Did Stalin Create Israel?] (Moscow: Yauza / EKSMO, 2005):