«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»
western Europe and eastern Europe. During the nineteenth century, Ashkenazim in eestern Europe underwent a period of upward social mobility and integration. Both the German and Austro-Hungarian empires endorsed fidelity to the crown over ethnic identity. In cities like Vienna and Berlin, Jewish communities prospered and were spared from anti-Semitic violence. Eastern European Jews, however, had no avenues by which to assimilate into their host societies. 85 The slur “wandering Jew” is based in the reality of the Ashkenazi condition in eastern Europe. In Russia, Jews were allowed establish towns, called shtetls, in the western border known as the Pale. The Pale of Russia contained parts of modern-day Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Periodically, as the Tsarist government needed land for farming, the Jews would be expelled. Jews found a safe haven in the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. Despite the poor living See: Gideon Shimoni, The Zionist Ideology (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1995), Ch 6; Joseph Schectman, The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story ( New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956), Vol. 1, Ch 20; Vol. 2, Chs. 8-9.
Lindemann, pp. 26-29.
conditions and outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence, the Pale of Russia remained the center of Eastern European Ashkenazim until the end of the Second World War.
Not surprisingly, Zionism arose as a potent political movement first in the major cities of the East like Warsaw and Kiev. The earliest proponents of Zionism were highly educated, assimilated Jews who rejected their elders’ outlook on the world and wanted to leave Europe for a land that they could call their own. Zionism, an Ashkenazi nationalist movement, marked a transition in the internal Jewish dialogue from an emphasis on the Messiah to re-establishment of the Jewish nation. At the end of the Passover Seder, the phrase “this year here, next year in Jerusalem” is said with a degree of emphasis. This is the intellectual seed at the root of Zionism.
The Dreyfus Affair of 1894 served as the catalyst for the rise of popular Zionism.
French artillery officer Captain Alfred Dreyfus was accused of attempting to sell military secrets to Germany. Dreyfus himself was religiously and ethnically but assimilated Ashkenazim and came from an old and wealthy Jewish family. Upon his conviction, Dreyfus was publicly stripped of his medals and his saber broken in front of him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. His sentence was reduced in 1899 to ten years, and in 1906 Dreyfus was fully pardoned. The Dreyfus Affair created a major scandal for the Third Republic. The French state was based on the equality of all men as stated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The Dreyfus Affair challenged the French self-image as being the most democratic people in the world. The scandal split the French intelligentsia, with the left believing that the Dreyfus was convicted because he was a Jew. The right argued that Dreyfus as a Jew had no place in France.
French Jewry had been the envy of other European Jewish communities because France was the first nation in Europe to award Jews full citizenship and French Jews were far more assimilated than other Ashkenazim. At the same time, however, there was a palpable current of anti-Semitism streaming through France. French journalist Edouard Drumont, who founded the anti-Semitic League of France in 1889, wrote, “Jews, vomited from the ghettoes of Europe, are now installed as the masters of historic houses that evoke the most glorious moments of ancient France… Jews are the most powerful agents of disorder the world has ever seen.” 86 The Dreyfus Affair shocked the assimilated Jewish communities of Europe. If a nation like France, with its expressed egalitarian ideals, still harbored anti-Semitic sentiments, then what hope could there be for Jews in Russia, Poland, and Hungary? Assimilation had long been seen by Jews as a means of escaping persecution. The Dreyfus Affair convinced many assimilated Jews that there was no true way for them to integrate.
Theodore Herzl was a journalist covering the Dreyfus Affair when he came to the realization that Jews could never assimilate into European society because it would always repel them. There was no way for Ashkenazim to escape the ghettos. Pogroms were not a thing of the past but were always one incident away from engulfing the Ashkenazim. Despite all the technological and scientific contributions to European culture that the Ashkenazim had given, they could not gain entry into their respective nations’ societies. The Jew, no matter how well he spoke English, French, or German, or how Continental he dressed and thought, could ever be anything but a Jew. Herzl realized that as long as the Jew remained in Europe, he would always be the leper and the only way to protect the Jewish people was to have a state where Jews were the majority.
Lindeman, p. 57.
Herzl’s rhetoric was firmly in the eastern European paradigm of nationalism that started with the retreat of the Ottoman Empire and was bolstered during the Greek War of Independence in 1831. In order to survive, Jews had to have a land of their own; they had to have their own Zion. Theodor Herzl did not invent the concept of Zionism, as it had always been an underlying idea in Judaism, but he did bring it into modern intellectual discourse. The shape of this Jewish state and its location were to be matters of some contention amongst the Jewish leadership and intelligentsia.
The earliest debate in the Zionist movement was over the culture of the Jewish state. This was an explosive argument because it raised the question, “Who is a Jew?” Was the Jewish state to be simply an Ashkenazi refuge governed by Ashkenazim and steeped in Ashkenazi culture, or was the Jewish state supposed to become the center of a Jewish cultural revival, a place where Jews could shed their European ways and return to their Middle Eastern origins? The debate created two strands of Zionism: practical Zionism and cultural Zionism.
Practical Zionism, advocated by Herzl himself, aimed to establish a modern European Jewish state in Palestine. The cities, such as Tel Aviv, would be modeled on European cities. The legal system would be secular, with a distinct separation between the Rabbinate and the State. German, not Hebrew or Yiddish, would be the national language. Herzl’s aim, then, was to create a German Jewish state in Palestine. It is evident from his journals in 1895 that he viewed the establishment of a Jewish state as a means of gaining acceptance as a German by Germans. Herzl wrote in his diary on June 15, 1895, that “I am a German Jew from Hungary and can never be anything but a German. At present I am not recognized as a German. But that will come once we are over there.” 87 The other end of the pole of the early Zionist movement was led by Achad Ha’am. Ha’am was the pen-name of Asher Hirsch Ginsberg, born in Ukraine in 1856. He advocated the settlement of Jews in Palestine, organized the first European Jewish settlement in Ottoman-ruled Palestine beginning in 1882, and openly opposed Herzl.
Zionists from Ha’am’s school of thought regarded Herzl as a lukewarm Jew. Ha’am’s cultural Zionism stood in stark contrast to Herzl’s practical Zionism. Herzl and his followers advocated abandoning European ways and resurrecting a “Jewish identity.” Unlike Herzl, Ha’am was staunchly anti-assimilationist. In his essay “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem” he wrote, In Eastern countries [the Jews] trouble is material: they have a constant struggle to satisfy the most elementary physical needs, to win a crust of bread and a breath of air -- things which are denied them because they are Jews. In the West, in lands of emancipation, their material condition is not particularly bad, but the moral trouble is serious: They want to take full advantage of their rights, and cannot. 88 To Ha’am’s, the eastern Jews, by which he meant Jews in Russia, were more Jewish that their western counterparts. They were never able to assimilate into mainstream life because the barriers posed by the severity of their oppression. The western Jews, according to Ha’am, had lost their “Jewishness.” Their material needs had been met and some Jews exerted a great deal of influence, but their full integration into western society was blocked. Assimilation equaled imitation in Ha’am’s perception. Imitation was born out of shame. Western Jews believed their Gentile neighbor’s rhetoric of equality and Theodor Herzl, Complete Diaries (New York: Herzl press, 1960), June 15, 1895.
Achad Ha’Am, “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem” 1897, translated from the Hebrew by Leon Simon, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1912.
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/haam2.html democracy so ardently that they were willing to abandon their indigenous culture.
Because of assimilation, the western Jew could not relate to his Russian counterpart and even resented the eastern Ashkenazim. Through Zionism, Ha’am sought to convert the self-loathing Jew. Zionism sought to reverse the internalization of inferiority that plagued Jewish self-identity. 89 Herzl and Ha’am’s different aims and assumptions crystallized in the debate over language. Herzl wrote, “Let everyone keep his acquired nationality and speak the language which has become the beloved homeland of his thoughts,” 90 He continued, “German will be [the new state’s] principal language.” Herzl could not divorce himself from his desire to be German. Like many assimilated Jews, Herzl saw the world through what W.E.B. Dubois called “double consciousness”: through the eyes of a Jew, which he was, and through the eyes of a German, which he longed to be. Because most Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish as their first tongue, Herzl proposed to promote the speech of German by purging the specific words and phrases that distinguished Yiddish from pure German. Achad Ha’am found Herzl’s desire to cleanse the Jewish language reprehensible. Ha’am, however, did not want Yiddish to be the language of the Jewish homeland. For Ha’am and his followers, the first step in the establishment of a Jewish identity involved the resurrection of spoken Hebrew, the language of ancient Israel. In the Diaspora, Hebrew had been relegated to a scholarly language only understood by rabbis.
There had been efforts to revitalize Hebrew as a spoken language mainly in Russia, but it had not spread west. Even by the establishment of the Mandate of Palestine, most Ashkenazim immigrants to Palestine did not speak Hebrew.
See Shimoni, pp 4, 104-112.
Herzl, June 15, 1895.
Herzl and Ha’am debated even more fiercely over the process of establishing a Jewish homeland. Herzl advocated the establishment of a Jewish state. His notion of the Jewish state was rooted in what he called “the Society of Jews.” Herzl wrote that Jews, need, above all things a gestor. This gestor cannot, of course, be a single individual. Such a one would either make himself ridiculous, or -- seeing that he would appear to be working for his own interests -- contemptible.
The gestor of the Jews must therefore be a body corporate. And that is the Society of Jews.” 91 The gestor is what would become the World Zionist Congress. Herzl’s hope was that the gathering of the best Jewish intellectuals would produce a viable plan for the creation of
the Jewish state. He described this process: “These men will have three tasks to perform:
(1) An accurate, scientific investigation of all natural resources of the country; (2) the organization of a strictly centralized administration; (3) the distribution of land. These tasks intersect one another, and will all be carried out in conformity with the now familiar object in view.” 92 For Herzl, the establishment of a Jewish State was a very methodical process. Moreover, while he acknowledged the importance and symbolism of Palestine for the Jewish people, Herzl did not demand that the Jewish State be established there.
In 1903, Theodore Herzl appealed to the British Government for the creation of a Jewish homeland. Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered the Zionists land in the highlands along the borders of modern day southern Kenya and northern Uganda. British motivations here were both benign and economic. Arthur Balfour’s government sympathized with the plight of the Jews after the Kishinev pogrom in 1903. Moreover, the Imperial British East Africa Company needed European settlers to farm the fertile Kenyan highlands. Herzl recorded in his journal, “‘I have seen a land for you in my Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat, Chapter 5, section 1, 1896; found at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/herzl2e.html Herzl, Chapter 5, section 3, 1896.
travels’ said the great Chamberlain, ‘and that’s Uganda. It’s hot on the coast, but farther inland the climate becomes excellent, even for Europeans. You can raise sugar and cotton there. And I thought to myself, that would be a land for Dr. Herzl. But of course he wants to go only to Palestine or its vicinity.” 93 Herzl brought the Uganda proposal before the Sixth Zionist Congress the same year and the Congress voted to send a delegation to investigate the region. The Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905 rejected the proposal because the delegation found the land and the indigenous people inhospitable. The Uganda proposal, while rejected, marked the beginning of the relationship between Zionism and the British government. The British were open to the idea of helping to establish a Jewish homeland.
In contrast to Herzl, Ha’am favored founding a Jewish culture in Palestine rather than the rapid creation of a Jewish state. He saw Herzl’s idea of a Jewish state as flawed because it was based in assimilationist thought. He derided the state idea because it only addressed the material problem of the Jews in Europe. He wrote, We may, by natural means, establish a Jewish State one day, and the Jews may increase and multiply in it until the country will hold no more: but even then the greater part of the people will remain scattered in strange lands. To gather our scattered ones from the four corners of the earth (in the words of the Prayer Book) is impossible. Only religion, with its belief in a miraculous redemption, can promise that consummation. 94 For Ha’am, the establishment of the Jewish state must be preceded by the establishment of a pan-Jewish culture rooted in a revival of Judaism, based in the Jews’ ancient homeland.