At the conclusion of 1940, an individual arrived in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and sought the collaboration of Werner Otto von Hantisi, a German diplomat stationed there. During that era, the majority of the Arab world, including Lebanon, existed as British and French colonies. In their pursuit to assail Britain and France, Nazi Germany devoted considerable efforts to establishing contact with Arab nationalists, forging alliances with them, and exploiting their desire to overthrow British and French colonialism. It is indeed true that numerous Arabs opted to collaborate with Germany.
However, what transpired on this occasion was peculiar: it was not Arabs who came to cooperate with the Nazis, but rather Jews.
The persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany is widely recognized across the globe. Hence, why did Jews seek collaboration with Germany?
The clandestine mastermind behind the Jewish envoy’s mission to Beirut in pursuit of the Germans was a Jewish statesman named Abraham Stern. In essence, he was a terrorist.
During the First World War, Britain issued the “Balfour Declaration,” expressing its endorsement of establishing a national homeland for Jews in Palestine, on the condition that it would not impede the interests of other ethnic groups in Palestine, namely the Arabs. Britain supported the Jews for multifaceted reasons, including the favorability of the British elite towards the Jewish community, the Jews’ support for the British war effort, and the backing of international Jewish elites, particularly those from America. Following the acquisition of support from major powers, the Zionists commenced organizing Jews from various corners of the world, particularly those persecuted in Eastern Europe, to immigrate to Palestine—a territory that was then under British mandate, effectively a colony. They vigorously procured land for the establishment of a Jewish homeland and even aspired to create an independent Jewish state.
This inevitably sparked a backlash from the local Arab population. The “Balfour Declaration” itself embodied inherent contradictions, making it implausible to establish a Jewish homeland without impacting the interests of the Arab populace. This serves as the root cause of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Consequently, the Arabs launched an armed revolt. In an attempt to defuse the tension, Britain imposed limitations on Jewish immigration. Consequently, the Jews, who were initially grateful to Britain, grew hostile towards the nation. As World War II erupted, European Jews faced the imminent threat of the Nazis. However, Britain persistently restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, further fueling Jewish discontent.
At that time, the Palestinian Jewish leader, Ben Gurion (later to become Israel’s first Prime Minister), opted to support Britain against Nazi Germany while simultaneously continuing the struggle against Britain, albeit through negotiations. Nonetheless, there were also extremist factions, such as the militant terrorist organization “Irgun” (which later evolved into the present-day right-wing Israeli party, Likud Party), who viewed Britain as their adversary. Prior to June 1940, “Irgun” unleashed a series of terrorist bombings targeting British authorities in Palestine, assassinated British officials, eliminated British military police and civil servants, and even took the lives of Arab civilians. However, “Irgun” eventually reached an agreement with Ben-Gurion, ceasing their attacks on the British.
Nevertheless, certain individuals within “Irgun” advocated for continued armed resistance against the British, perceiving them as foreign occupying forces encroaching upon Jewish land. These individuals formed a fresh clandestine organization called “Lehi” (an abbreviation of the Hebrew term “Israel Freedom Fighters”), which the Western world dubbed the “Stern Gang.”
Stern, a Jewish individual born in Poland, spent his early years in Tsarist Russia before immigrating to Palestine. He was an exceptional young man who pursued studies in the Department of Ancient Greek and Latin during his time as a college student, earning a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in Italy. Stern possessed a keen talent for poetry and composed numerous impassioned patriotic verses. Prior to World War II, he had received support from the Polish government and made preparations to train 40,000 Jewish soldiers, leading them to Palestine to instigate an anti-British uprising and subsequently establish an independent nation. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent devastation of Poland, this plan came to naught.
Subsequently, Stern found himself at odds with the mainstream Jewish leadership in Palestine, particularly Ben Gurion, due to their divergent stances. Stern insisted on employing violence against the British authorities. In an attempt to garner support, he successively sought alliances with two of Britain’s major adversaries: Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. The negotiations with the Italians were exposed by the British, and Stern ultimately reached the point of no return by engaging in negotiations with Nazi Germany, the very entity perpetrating the Jewish massacres.
Stern proposed to von Hantisi, through an intermediary, that the “Lehi” organization would actively fight alongside Germany in exchange for Germany’s support for Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state. Stern also suggested recruiting 40,000 Jews from Germany’s occupiedterritories in Europe, marching them into Palestine with German backing, and expelling British forces. Von Hantisi and his colleagues reported Stern’s proposal to their superiors, yet the German government never responded.
In Palestine, Stern became a wanted individual by the British authorities, forcing him into hiding. Ultimately, on February 12, 1942, he was fatally shot by British police. This complex and contentious figure represents the extremist faction within the Israeli state-building movement. They exhibited no hesitation in resorting to violence and terrorism to achieve their objectives, even willing to form alliances with malevolent forces. However, they later obtained official recognition from Israel and were hailed as national heroes. On May 31, 1948, the “Lehi” organization was officially disbanded, and its members were assimilated into the Israel Defense Forces, marking the end of conflicts between “Lehi” and mainstream Jewish organizations, as well as subsequent Israeli entities. Throughout the merger process, the original leaders of “Lehi” were granted amnesty. Each year, Israeli political figures pay homage to Stern’s grave during commemorative events. The site where he met his demise now stands as a sacred place for the Israeli right-wing. Israel has also issued a commemorative stamp honoring Stern. Yitzhak Shamir, Stern’s former comrade in the “Lehi” organization, later became the Prime Minister of Israel.