“Without these weapons, we would have not survived.” David Ben-Gurion

                           THE BIRTH OF ISRAEL; PRAGUE'S CRUCIAL ROLE

                                      Published by the Middle East Quarterly, December 1, 2018 Winter 2019, Volume 25:

                                                                       Jiri Valenta and Leni Friedman Valenta

While the United States and the Soviet Union orchestrated the November 1947 partition resolution underpinning Israel’s establishment, [1] Czechoslovakia provided the nascent Jewish state with vital war material for rebuffing the Arab attempt to destroy it at birth. So vital was it that David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, commented, “Without these weapons, we would have not survived.” [2]Czechoslovakia’s foreign minister Jan Masaryk (above) worked to help the Hagana smuggle Jews into Mandatory Palestine in defiance of the British naval blockade.

The Czechoslovak support tends to be seen as an adjunct of Stalin’s decisions. But a close examination of untapped Czech sources reveals, amid a Shakespearean drama of intrigues, twists, and deception, including the murder of the architect of this policy, that the Czechoslovak leaders, both democrats and communists, had a major role in the support for Israel.

Relentless Foe of Antisemitism

Few would have suspected that the Israeli miracle would depend on the foreign minister of the small country called by native son Franz Kafka, “a little anomaly within a space of great powers.” But the support of Jan Masaryk (1886-1948) for the Jews was virtually genetic, being the son of professor Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the defender of a poor, Bohemian, Jewish peddler, Leopold Hilsner, falsely accused of the ritual murder of a young Czech girl.

“If my father did not do in his beautiful life anything else but support for poor Hilsner,” the younger Masaryk explained, “he would have been always for me the most celebrated man in the world.” [3]

A determined foe of anti-Semitism, in 1918, the elder Masaryk became the founder of an imperfect Czechoslovak democracy from the remnants of the crumbling Austro-Hungarian empire. Its system partly modeled on the U.S. Constitution, during the interwar period, Czechoslovakia became an oasis of freedom for anti-fascist refugees from Nazi Germany and the site of three Zionist congresses. Czechoslovakia’s president also undertook a historical journey to Jerusalem and Cairo.

In the shadow of his famous father, Masaryk’s youth had not been promising. The son of an American mother, he had what his friend, British intelligence agent Robert Bruce Lockhart, described as “an artistic temperament.” He enjoyed wine, women, and song, and sported the nickname “the playboy of the Western world.” [4] Yet he rose to become Czechoslovak ambassador to the Court of St. James in 1925, apparently at the instigation of his father who was “eager to widen Jan’s horizon and to mature the crudeness of his spirit.” [5]

Although England would later provide a home for the exiled Czechoslovak government, Masaryk’s feelings would always be tempered by the British government’s 1938 Munich betrayal: “They’ve sold me into slavery to the Germans, like they used to sell Negroes into slavery in America.”[6]

Shortly after Munich, Masaryk became minister of foreign affairs in President Eduard Benes’s exiled Czechoslovak government in London. There, his brilliant and witty BBC radio broadcasts, “Honza’s Talks,” to the homeland and to America made him, in Lockhart’s words, “the chief propagandist and ambassador at large for his country.”[7]

Helping Holocaust Survivors

Appalled by 1945 post-liberation pogroms in Slovakia, a former fascist state once again part of Czechoslovakia, Masaryk worked with Gaynor Jacobson, the Prague representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC) to aid the Hagana’s smuggling of Jews into Mandatory Palestine in defiance of the British naval blockade. By the autumn of 1945, he provided nine trains to carry Jews through Czechoslovakia to displaced persons camps in the U.S. zones in Germany and Austria, from where they were taken to boats bound for Palestine. Significantly, the trains avoided Prague, where British diplomats kept a watchful eye with a view to preventing the possible move of Jews to Palestine. [8]

Following the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Poland, which culminated in the July 4, 1946 pogrom in the town of Kielce, thousands of Polish Jews sought to escape to Czechoslovakia, only to find themselves bottled up at the border, frequently closed to Jewish movement due to British pressure. At that time, Czechoslovakia was ruled by a unique coalition government—its parliament almost evenly divided between communist parties and democrats. Joined by Prime Minister Klement Gottwald, who professed to be first Czech and then communist, Masaryk, a democrat, convinced his ministerial colleagues to offer all possible assistance to Jews entering their country.[9]

“You know what’s my konicek [hobby]?” Masaryk asked Zdenek Toman, the deputy interior minister in charge of military intelligence and border guards. “Jews! I beg you to close your eyes if some Polish Jews are crossing our borders.”[10]

Toman warned that “the British embassy could view this as a hostile act and exploit it against us in Paris [postwar negotiations],” yet he told Masaryk that the Czech government was providing large financial resources for the Jews and would do its utmost to comply with his wish. “We are for the liberal solution,” he said, “and as soon as it is possible, we’ll allow transit of Polish Jews across Czechoslovakia ... you can see from our orders on German and Hungarian Jews, we act in a human way.” Relieved by this reassurance, Masaryk declared that Czech money for Jewish immigration was not only a humanitarian necessity but “an excellent investment” that could help defend Prague’s national interests in Washington with the aid of prominent Jewish figures such as Bernard Baruch.[11]

Following the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Poland, thousands of Polish Jews sought to escape to Czechoslovakia, only to find themselves stopped at the border due to pressure from the British.

Born Zolten Goldberger in Slovakia, Toman was actually Jewish. He was also deeply involved on his own in helping Jews. Before long, the non-Jewish Czech foreign minister, an avowed democrat, and the Jewish deputy interior minister, an idealistic communist, became major figures in the Zionist effort to rescue the Jews in Central Europe and help them reach their ancestral homeland.

Toman made good on his promise, instructing all border police that the words “I’m Jewish” sufficed for entry into Czechoslovakia. With the borders once again open, some 90,000 Jewish refugees flooded into Czechoslovakia from July to November 1946. The influx required not only food, lodging, and clothing for the hungry and penniless Jews but also attention to religious and dietary needs.

By now, a quiet war existed between Prague and London with the British largely backed by key figures in the U.S. State Department. As President Harry Truman was battling his bureaucrats in support of the Jews, Masaryk increasingly defied the hostile attitudes of British and U.S. diplomats and intelligence services. There was, however, a third party that unexpectedly came to the aid of the Jews—the Soviet Union.

To read more of this incredible story and learn Jan Masaryk's likely killer -- yes, it was not suicide -- click here

                                                                                  PUBLISHED BY MISCHBACHA MAGAZINE

                                       WHAT'S TRUMP'S GAME WITH RUSSIA?

                                                                An Article by Binyamin Rose Based on an  Interview of Dr. Jiri Valenta                                               
                                                                                         Posted December 18, 2016 

Donald Trump will make amends with the CIA once his handpicked director, Mike Pompeo, takes over the intelligence agency. Until then, Trump’s reported aversion to CIA security briefings will only intensify, following publication of a CIA assessment that Russia meddled in Trump’s favor during the election campaign by hacking Democratic National Committee emails to embarrass Hillary Clinton.

Such intrusion wouldn’t be a first for Russia. In his 2001 memoirs, Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the US under six American presidents, revealed that in 1968, the Soviets offered financing to Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in his race against Richard Nixon, a fervent anti-communist. Humphrey, an honest politician, was wise enough to say nyet. That’s history. But the blooming relationship between Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin that looks too cozy for comfort is a clear and present concern. In Trump’s worldview, is Russia a global rival? Or does Trump have some clandestine dealings with Russia that could pose a conflict of interest? 

Read more:

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                               Benjamin Netanyahu and Milos Zeman dining with their wives in Jerusalem, photo via Facebook page of Benjamin Netanyahu

                                                          MILOS ZEMAN IN JERUSALEM

                                                                                   By Dr. Jiri Valenta


                                                            BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,021, November 29, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Shifts in perceptions among European Jews on where they feel safest is not due entirely to demographic change. It also has to do with Eastern European leaders like the Czech Republic’s Miloš Zeman, who, in the tradition of the country’s founder, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, has become not just a strong voice for his people but a true friend of the Jews.

Czech President Miloš Zeman’s historic speech to the Israeli Knesset on November 26, 2018, in which he stressed that his country is not only Israel’s best friend in Europe but one of its best friends in the world, came on the heels of an important report released by the American Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) on November 20.

The JDC report concluded that there is an ongoing historical shift in the perceptions of Jewish elites in Europe. Whereas a century ago they viewed Western Europe as a sanctuary for European Jewry, they now feel far safer in Eastern Europe. Analysts attributed this phenomenon to demographic changes in Western Europe; the influx of Muslim refugees in the wake of the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and the rise of radical Islam.

While this is undoubtedly a major factor, there is another element that must not be neglected by Western policymakers, particularly in Washington. That is the Herculean effort of some Eastern European leaders, above all, the Czech Republic’s Zeman, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and several leaders in Poland, to engage in what Zeman has called “the civilization struggle.”

In view of the demographic upheaval wrought on Western Europe by the massive Muslim immigration, and in defiance of the EU’s opprobrium, these leaders continue to defend the sovereignty of their nations against the rise of Islamism by prohibiting entry to Muslim migrants.

Miloš  Zeman, the first Czech president ever to address the Knesset, is at the forefront of this struggle. At the Knesset, he was given the honorary title, ‘”Defender of Jerusalem,” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In 2012 he was one of the first politicians in the world to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The story of the Czech Republic’s evolution into Israel’s best friend in Europe suggests that leaders matter in the struggle for freedom and liberty. Zeman’s visit to Israel was in the tradition of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the founder of the democratic modern Czechoslovak state in 1918 on the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A true friend of the Jews, Masaryk became the hero to many Jewish Americans because of his defense in 1899 of a Jewish peddler accused of the ritual murder of a young Czech girl. At that time, Czechoslovakia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Welcomed by American Jews during a visit to New York 1907 as a Slavic hero, he was not a hero to his countrymen. The anti-Semitic Czech and German Reds were marching daily outside his Prague apartment and his own students demonstrated against him.

After 1918, Jewish life flourished in imperfect yet democratic Czechoslovakia, which hosted World Zionist Congresses in 1921, 1922, and 1933. A 1927 visit by Masaryk to Jerusalem, during which he showed interest in both Arabs and Jews, not only symbolized his support for the Zionist cause but highlighted the new and special relationship between the Czech and Jewish peoples. Chaim Weizmann wrote, “Every Zionist should study the history of the Czech national movement and of the Czech struggle for national existence. In the late 1930s Czechoslovakia became a land of freedom.”

Then came another dark period in Czech modern history. The Munich Agreement of 1938 led to a massive rise in native Czech anti-Semitism. As in 1899, Masaryk was again labeled an instrument of Zionism during the Second Republic (1938-39) and the Nazi occupation. During this time, anti-Semitism permeated Czech society.

Then came yet another dramatic change after the liberation from the Nazis. After WWII, while the US and the Soviet Union laid the diplomatic and political groundwork for Israel’s establishment, Masaryk’s son, Jan, in the face of both British and American diplomatic opposition to Jewish immigration, opened the Czechoslovak borders to tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors from Poland. Reaching DP camps in Germany and Austria, they went on to mandatory Palestine, then to Israel, where they joined the struggle for a new Jewish homeland.

But then the Czechs did even more. In defiance of the British naval blockade, they sold both arms and planes to the Jews in Palestine, vital war materiel that helped the nascent Jewish State rebuff the Arab attempt to destroy it at birth. So vital were these weapons that David Ben-Gurion commented, “Without [them], we would not have survived.”

This support notwithstanding, the large wave of anti-Semitism that surged in 1938 did not subside until the 1967 Six-Day War, when Czech students welcomed the Israeli victory. It encouraged them in their own struggle for liberty from the Soviet empire. With the defeat of the 1968 Prague Spring, in which a young Miloš Zeman had actively participated, rabid anti-Semitism and support for radical Arab regimes resurfaced, with Czechoslovakia becoming a “second home” to the PLO.

After the end of the Cold War, new Czech president Vaclav Havel stopped sending arms to the PLO. Havel was a great dissident, playwright, and revolutionary. He approved the 1991 Sanford Ziff Freedom Flight of Soviet Jews to Israel through Prague and received three of them in Prague Castle.

Unfortunately, Havel listened to Middle East experts who convinced him to act as an intermediary between Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders. Moreover, despite the objections of some senior foreign ministry officials, Prague sold 450 T-72 tanks to Syria in 1991. It also signed an agreement to build a large tank plant in Libya that did not materialize due to the lack of Libyan hard currency, and it approved selling the radar system Tamara, as well as some nuclear technology, to Iran in 1994. That sale was subsequently canceled only because the US planned to block Czech entry into NATO. Arafat returned to Prague in April 1990, and Syria, Libya, and Iran continued to receive Czech arms.

The real change came when Zeman became Prime Minister in 2002. He compared Arafat to Hitler, and when he became president, he enlarged the scope of his support for Israel. As Netanyahu put it in 2012, “the Czech Republic is a true and fair friend. We have many friends, but I don’t think we have better friends than the Czech Republic in Europe.”

Zeman’s election in 2018 was close, but in the end the Czech people confirmed its support for his policies, including friendship with Israel. Unfortunately, his close economic relations to Russia and China have been used by his foes to try to prevent President Trump’s making a historical visit to Prague; this despite his having just announced a 2% contribution of Czech GDP to the military budget. He has also made cooperative agreements with NATO to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following Zeman’s speech to the Knesset, the time has come for Trump to acknowledge Zeman’s efforts in making his part of Europe safer for his people and for Jews. As the US is competing with Russia’s Rosatom for a contract to finish the electric power station in the Czech Republic’s Dukavony, Trump could offer support for a contract that Zeman cannot refuse.  Trump could also visit Prague and Budapest, signifying his recognition of the new historic shift in Europe – a shift that aligns with the Trump Doctrine on immigration and anti-Islamic terrorism.

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Dr. Jiri Valenta is a Senior Non Resident Research Associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. A Council on Foreign Relations member in NYC, he was formerly a tenured associate professor in the Department of National Security Affairs of the U.S. Postgraduate Naval School, and Director of the Institute of International Relations, a post-revolutionary think tank in Vaclav Havel’s government in Prague.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family