Supporters of Hamas and some middle-class radicals have responded to the recent fighting between the reactionary Islamist group and the Israeli military by organizing protests under the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free” — a call for the destruction of Israel and expulsion of the Jews. But it’s worth remembering what Fidel Castro, the central leader of the Cuban Revolution, had to say about Israel and antisemitism.
Castro often strongly disagreed with the actions and politics of the Israeli government. But he went out of his way to explain he supported the right of Israel to exist as a refuge for the Jews.
In 2010 Castro invited Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter for the Atlantic monthly, to come to Cuba and interview him about Israel and Tehran. Castro urged Goldberg to print his comments, and then defended him for doing so. His remarks were covered worldwide.
Over the previous year, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been speaking out, claiming that the Holocaust — the systematic murder campaign in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis — was a lie, an “unprovable and mythical claim” invented by the Israeli government to justify the country’s existence.
“I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims,” Castro told Goldberg. “They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything.”
“Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms,” Castro said. “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
“Let’s imagine that I were [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Castro said, “that I were there and I sat down to reason through [the issues facing Israel], I would remember the 6 million Jewish men and women, of all ages were exterminated in the concentration camps.”
The communist revolutionary told Goldberg that the Iranian government needed to understand the dangerous consequences of Holocaust denial and Jew-hatred. When Goldberg asked Castro if he would tell Ahmadinejad the same thing, Castro replied, “I am saying this so you can communicate it.”
Goldberg asked Castro, “Do you think the State of Israel, as a Jewish State, has a right to exist?”
“Yes, without a doubt,” Castro replied.
Goldberg was surprised. He shouldn’t have been. Castro’s defense of the right of Israel to exist and opposition to Jew-hatred was nothing new. The revolutionary government that came to power in 1959 established diplomatic relations with Israel and maintained them until 1973.
“True revolutionaries never threaten to exterminate a whole country,” Castro told Le Monde in September 1967, explaining his view it was a mistake for Arab governments and organizations to call for Israel’s destruction.
Even after the Cuban government broke diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973, the two countries maintained economic relations. Jews in Cuba continue to visit Israel and Israeli athletes have been welcome to compete at international sporting events held in Cuba.