In 1971 seven British embassies and Whitehall diplomats were asked to evaluate Zionist activity in the U.S. and Europe. Their responses echoed anti-Semitic notions of Jewish financial power, dual loyalty and undue political influence.
The idea that Jews use their financial clout to influence politics and the media for nefarious purposes lies at the heart of modern anti-Semitism. Often, the terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ are interchangeable in these storied fantasies. Put the phrase “Zionist influence” into Google and your computer screen fills up with the paranoid fantasies of conspiracy theorists - and anti-Semitic cranks.
But the conflation of the two terms, and the assumption of the malign influence of both, has not always been confined to the fringes. During the early 1970s, it made an appearance in the heart of British foreign policy making when the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) embarked on a secret research project under the title of “Zionism and its influence in USA and Western Europe.”
This was not an analysis of Israeli diplomatic outreach or relations between Israel and its allies. Rather, it was an attempt to identify and evaluate Zionist activity and influence within the United States and Western Europe. Working without a clear definition of the term ‘Zionist’, much of the research for this project was little more than a survey of Jewish political activity and demography. And while the project reached no firm conclusions, the content of its files, held in the U.K. National Archives and revealed here for the first time, says much about the FCO’s attitudes towards Zionism and Diaspora Jewry during that period – and the consistent confusion between the two.
At times, the language and thinking of some of the civil servants involved in the project even echoed anti-Semitic notions of Jewish financial power, dual loyalty and undue political influence. Fairly or not, the project will confirm the suspicions of those who believe that the FCO’s traditional ‘Arabist’ orientation was evidence of latent anti-Semitism within its walls.
At the heart of the FCO’s research project was a fascination with the power and influence of American Jewry. One Washington-based diplomat wrote of the “enormous influence (which can scarcely be exaggerated) of the Jewish intellectuals… It follows that much of the intellectual thought and discussion, certainly on the East Coast, is dominated by Jewish savants.” No evidence is offered of these intellectuals’ Zionist inclinations or writings, which was taken as read.