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The Sixty Million
The Roots of Zionism, Part 2

Theodor Herzl [1]

Theodor Herzl

5,003 words

Part 2 of 4

What Was Traditional Jewish Society Like Before Emancipation?

By the early 1800s, when Napoleon brought about emancipation in Europe, the majority of the world’s Jews, Hasids, crowded the villages known as shtetlsFiddler on the Roof would wax nostalgic about the shtetl, but this sentimental tripe ensured that readers of the book or viewers of the musical play or movie would remain unaware of the rather awful downside of that life. The Jewish masses had sunk into abject superstition and general ignorance, religious fanaticism, a stagnant economy, disease, rampant criminality, and perhaps most appallingly: obsequiousness to the tyranny of the rabbis and other spiritual leaders who controlled the culture in furtherance of their own interests. For those communal tyrants, the situation was hunky-dory.

Their tyranny, writes Shahak, entailed glamorizing that ignorance and superstition. It encouraged the Jewish masses to veritably wallow in the cultural and physical mire of a medieval existence. Hasidism was a Jewish sect whose leadership collaborated with the Orthodox rabbinate and a clique of rich merchants in a self-centered, exclusivist, and lavish lifestyle. Life in a German shtetl included book-burnings, persecuting writers, preposterous disputations about the alleged powers of magical amulets, and rendering verboten the instruction of even the rudiments of German or anything else non-Jewish. The poor vast majority of Hasids existed within an atmosphere “of cruelty and deprivation, of fatalism and magic, and of comatose squalor . . . congealed into a suffocating, conservative detritus that shut the Jews off from the technological and intellectual prospects of the modern world . . . [Nonetheless it was a] comfortable closed society . . .”

Come emancipation, reveals Shahak, “The bonds of one of the most closed of ‘closed societies’, one of the most totalitarian societies in the whole history of mankind, were snapped.” Even the more limited emancipation under the Czar was a distinct improvement; the Czar increased the presence of police in Jewish areas so “that it became difficult to murder Jews on the order of their rabbis, whereas in pre-1795 Poland it had been quite easy.” For the first time in more than a millennium and a half, a Jew could do much as he pleased, and without converting.

Reflecting the indignation of the rabbis for whom emancipation spelled a loss of so much power, prestige, and influence, a large part of the Zionist movement was keen to restore the shtetl in the national form. The transition of Jewry to integration within mainstream Gentile society in Europe was going to take at least a century, but the successors to the shtetl tyrants would pull the plug after about 70 years of incredibly impressive progress that they managed to label a failure. Even Cantor concedes that “life in the shtetl was not only materially poor but often cruel and benighted . . .” No one today would put up with such intolerance and physically cramped conditions for a week. But that in essence is what the Zionists inadvertently re-created while intending to create its opposite in the Holy Land. A century later, the vast majority of Jews would still prefer to live a less cramped and intolerant life elsewhere, even in the wake of the Jewish Tragedy.

Shahak cautions us not to project aspects of modern Jewish culture onto the shtetl of old. “[A]ll the supposedly ‘Jewish characteristics’ — by which I mean the traits which vulgar so-called intellectuals in the West attribute to ‘the Jew’ — are modern characteristics, quite unknown during most of Jewish history, and appeared only when the totalitarian Jewish community began to lose it power . . .” Humor was all but absent in Hebrew literature prior to the 1800s. One could get away with making a joke, but only if it was at the expense of Christianity or Islam. Otherwise: verboten. To satirize rabbis or other community leaders was unthinkable. Judaism was way behind Latin Christianity in this respect. Jewish comedy? Non-existent.

Religious learning, insists Shahak, was “in a debased and degenerate state,” and prior to 1780, European Jews of Europe especially held in contempt all learning other than the Talmud (and Jewish mysticism). Large chunks of the Old Testament were left unread. Hebrew poetry that was not deployable for liturgical purposes was scorned. Jewish works of a philosophic nature? Unread, even anathematised. Foreign languages? Their study was verboten. Ditto math and science. Geography, Gentile history, Jewish history? These weren’t even subjects for study. “The critical sense . . . was totally absent . . .” Innovation and the mildest of criticism were not tolerated. Even the Bar Mitzvah, a product of Jewish culture in mid-emancipation, was considered a heresy by the former shtetl tyrants.

Practically all things positive about Jewish culture that we admire today are the product of a Napoleon-emancipated Jewry encountering Gentile modernity. That is why Ben Weider, the inventor of weight-training and bodybuilding, complemented his business activities with a zeal for writing about Napoleon, the Gentile icon who broke up the ghettoes and set the Jews free to join in on the construction of modernity, at which the Jews would prove to be second to none. All their admired accomplishments stem from being set free from the tyranny of their suffocating community life. Ironically, the best of Israeli culture would feature products of that continuing encounter with modernity rather than any return to a shtetl mentality; where the shtetl mentality prevails, there indeed lies the fanaticism and intolerance of the bad old days.

The rabbis had no use for general history, which had little use for them. They had even less use for Jewish history, but Jewish historiography absorbed those rabbinical concerns by becoming, writes Shahak, “deceitful, sentimental and ultra-romantic” with “all inconvenient facts . . . expunged.” Totally ignored, concedes Cantor, was the mortifying fact that, “The Polish Jews had risen during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to prosperity as well as security by their service functions on behalf of the immensely land-rich Polish nobility, especially with regard to estate management for absentee landlords over the Ukrainian peasants.” This was effective in “instilling endemic hatred among the peasantry toward the Jews as the visible embodiment of their repression and exploitation . . .” The result was 150 years of bliss for Polish Jews, until Cossack pogroms in the mid-1600s and smaller-scale versions in 1700s pulled the rug out from under their complacency if not their power.

In any case, willfully ignored by the Rabbis was the fact underlined by Shahak that, “In the countries of east Europe as well as in the Arab world, the Jews were liberated from the tyranny of their own religion and of their own communities by outside forces . . .” (my emphases) Jews can thank heaven (in the guise the Gentile world) that a powerful Christianity that could have crushed it instead permitted the persistence of Judaism as an outmoded relic and that Napoleon freed its community from that outmoded relic’s backwardness and tyranny. 

The Dreyfus Affair Turned Upside Down 

In the 1880s, there were open calls by Gentiles to repeal Jewish emancipation. That doesn’t make the Gentile world look very accommodating. But soon a public petition appeared, signed by 75 non-Jewish intellectuals and public figures, intent on disempowering the exploiters of anti-Semitic sentiment. But a bigger bump in the emancipation/assimilation road lay directly ahead. Journalist/playwright Theodore Herzl began to turn away from assimilation and turn toward Zionism as the infamous Dreyfus affair unrolled in 1894. However, writes Lindemann, a solid case has been made that Dreyfus’s Jewishness had nothing to do with his arrest or his conviction. Moreover, Gentile intellectuals rallied to Dreyfus’s cause. The upshot? Lindemann, concludes that while anti-Semitism had indeed surfaced, it had been shot out of the water by converging mainstream forces. (It was a preview of the road almost-but-not-taken in 1933, when Gentiles worldwide rallied to the Great Boycott only to have Zionists pull the plug on it.) Herzl’s doubts about Jewish integration in Europe should have been allayed. But in one of the great non-sequiturs of history, he acted and wrote subsequently as if the Jewish Dreyfus had been convicted rather than exonerated.

Origins and Growth of the Zionist Movement 

As of the 1700s, the Jews’ longstanding sense of superiority had its nose rubbed in the civilizational advances of the Gentile world. A nagging sense of inferiority combined with seething resentment took its place. Being more comfortable with seeing Gentiles as inferior, Jews devised new ideologies that would re-assert Jewish superiority and the Gentile world’s need of ‘Jewification’. One means of asserting superiority was to declare that a watered-down Jewish identity was unacceptable and that the only way Jews could live their Jewishness to the full was by moving to the Holy Land and establishing a Jewish nation there that would become a shining model for Gentile nations to emulate.

Nationalism was in the air in late 19th-century Europe. In fact, writes Sand, “Zionism was part of the last wave of nationalist awakening in Europe, and coincided with the rise of other identity-shaping ideologies on the Continent.” Intellectually, it began with Moses Hess’s book Rome and Jerusalem (1862), but that barely caused a ripple. In the 1870s Hungarian anti-Semite Gyozo Istoczy seconded Hess by encouraging a Jewish migration to Palestine. Then came Leon Pinsker’s Autoemancipation! (1882). Once again, barely a ripple.

Finally, not having read either of his predecessors, Theodore Herzl published Judenstat (1896), a fourth ‘Back to the Ghetto’ tome. There, ironically enough, he often lambasted Jews while expressing admiration for the Gentile aristocracy and even for the Gentile world in general. He also shared the not-uncommon Jewish belief that anti-Semitism was a goad to Jewish achievement. “When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat . . . ; when we rise, there rises our terrible power of the purse,” Herzl reminded the Gentiles. It was a provocation to the very anti-Semitism that had so unsettled him earlier but which now seemed an ally that could help place Jews up on the road to Zion.

A Herzl novel entitled Altneuland (1902) followed. His intent was that the Jewish state would be a piece of Europe transplanted into the Mid-East. He was oblivious to the inconvenient presence there of an ‘Arab’ population. Aaron David Gordon would declare: “Here, in Palestine, is the force attracting all the scattered cells of the people to unite into one living national organism.” The plan from the get-go was to bring Jews in and then conquer adjacent lands to forge a Greater Israel. The much-later Nazis agenda would be a matter of, ‘kick Jews out and then conquer adjacent lands for an expanded Third Reich’. But both courses served the single purpose of ethnic homogeneity. Zionists were basically nationalists or socialists, and became ‘national socialists’ long before the advent of Hitler. Indeed, Zeev Sternhell would refer to Zion’s first ruling party of Mapai-ers as national socialists, as Hitler would call his party. Herzl heard the chant ‘Death to the Jews’ in France during Dreyfus affair. And were he in Israel today, he could hear ‘Death to the Arabs’ chants whenever conflict arises between Jews and Arabs.

To be fair, what Herzl publically enunciated was rule by Jews in Palestine but in the context of a liberal culture where all faiths would be welcome. He even mused that the Jews might win over the natives by bringing prosperity. In his diaries he weighed buying out the natives and deploying the residuum as common laborers. In reality, no one bought the ‘happy talk’ version of a Jewish Palestine, not even Herzl himself. Everyone knew what had to be done in the long run, and it wasn’t pretty.

Ironically, Herzl was a presumed descendant of Biblical-era denizens of the Middle East and a skeptic of Europe’s suitability for Jews, and yet his attitude reeked of European superiority. Still, it was a European superiority presumably on the wane in Christian Europe. Jewish Herzl’s presumed successor Max Nordau had published Degeneration (1892), one of several books in that era to trumpet racial purity, in this case to avoid the sort of cultural degeneration many saw as accompanying modernity in Europe.

Moses Hess, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, and other originators of Zionism inhabited German culture. Not so for those who spread the word and carried out the deed. The implementers were educated Yiddish-speakers from the densely-packed shtetls and cities of Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine. It was the same with Jewish revolutionaries — the possible descendants of the Khazars would take what the German Jews gave them and run with it. In this scenario, the Khazars became ‘more Catholic than the Pope’, so to speak, to compensate for being converts and pretty-well unrelated by blood to any Biblical line of Jews. Here we have post-Kharzar/Yiddish culture rather than Judaism per se cultivating both revolutionary and nationalist fervor.

Russian Jews became especially invigorated by the new Marxist and Zionist ideologies in reaction to the pogroms occurring throughout the country, 250 pogroms in 1881 alone. In the pogroms of 1904-05, nearly 3,000 Jews may have been killed. Some pogroms were doubtless inspired by the riches of the Jewish elite, but the perpetrators took it out on the Jewish poor with no security. For instance, pogroms struck the Jewish cultural centres Vilna and Lodz, and these were poor towns. But having a greater impact on intellectuals like Herzl in distant Germany was not physical violence but exclusion by Gentiles of Jews from fraternities and social clubs.

Some historians claim that Turkish Jews fomented (out of Salonica along with Dönmeh crypto-Jews) the Turkish Revolution of 1908, but couldn’t get any Zionist trajectory going. This failure would have a fateful impact on world history, given that Jewish hopes of a Zionist Palestine would shift from the Ottoman Empire (which ruled Turkey) to the British Empire.

By 1910, there were 29,000 Zionists in America. Jewish-American pressure on the U.S. government 1887–1917 ensured the appointment of a Jew as ambassador to Turkey. All but one of New York City’s Yiddish dailies was Zionist by 1923. Despite overall low numbers, an international Zionism was in ascent. 

The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit 

The Pale was not some homogenous Jewish entity but rather a quilt of Jews, Byelorussians, Germans, Lithuanians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, and Ukrainians. Though many historians still assume them to have been Russian pogroms against Jews, the early pogroms in Odessa during the half century between 1821 and 1871 were in fact a matter of rivalry between the city’s Greek and Jewish businessmen, the latter in the process of supplanting the former, which was deeply resented by the supplanted.

In 1881 though, amongst a group of revolutionary conspirators, Jewess Hesia Helfman had played a role in the assassination of Czar Alexander II, provoking pogroms in many areas. (It was something of a preview of Kristallnacht in 1938 Germany.) This signalled the outset of a veritable plague of pogroms over the next few decades. Worse, by 1888, Czar Alexander III retaliated by pushing the Jews out from Russia back into the Pale. Property-owning/renting restrictions revived. Jews couldn’t enter the civil service, nor could they trade on Sundays or on Christian holidays. With an exploding population, Jews needed more job opportunities, not fewer. It was a de-stabilizing situation that forged the discontent out of which revolutionary Marxism and Zionism emerged.

Just as for Europe, World War I and World War II constituted the equivalent of a single tragically-unnecessary civil war amongst ethnically-similar nations, so too were Zionism and Communism utterly superfluous and destructive to long-term Jewish interests. Cantor laments that the average Western Jew by the early 1900s has “found stability, comfort, and reason in modernity in its cultural and fiscal aspects, and has no desire or motive for going beyond this resting place in the Jewish historical pilgrimage and wants to make it a permanent home . . . There is no need to seek further. Here world history and Jewish history putatively end . . . But other Jews would not let history end. They summoned the radical wrath of the prophets to condemn the bourgeois order as unjust and sought a socialist era to supersede the quiet, secure, rich world of Reform Judaism and Ricardian economics.” Or, they so exaggerated the problems of Jewish assimilation in Europe that the prospect of moving Jews and Jewish culture to the Middle East lock-stock-and-barrel became a serious project.

Were things so bad in Russia that only a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat could set things right? The famed Russian novelist Nabokov looked back: “The Russian [legal system] after the Alexander reforms was a magnificent institution, not only on paper. Periodicals of various tendencies and political parties of all possible kinds, legally or illegally, flourished and all parties were represented in the Duma. Public opinion was always liberal and progressive.” German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg had declared, “The future [belongs] to Russia, which grows and grows . . .” Better things could have and would have evolved from there. Absent the revolution, civil war, and the development of a police state, Russia in the early 1930s would have been way ahead of Stalin’s slave-labor-assisted industrialization. In fact, the February revolution of 1917 produced a provisional government which, had it been allowed to stumble and grope until the end of the war, would have been a Jewish paradise: full civil equality and unlimited participation in political life. Now that really should have been the end of it — the fruition of possibilities Nabokov sensed in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, revolutionary momentum would insist on implementing the very worst idea of the 19th century, perhaps the very worst idea of all time — the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Advisor to the Czars, Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, in letter to the novelist Dostoyevsky wrote: “[The Jews] have undermined everything, but the spirit of the age supports them. They are at the root of the revolutionary socialist movement and of regicide . . .” In 1772, about 70 percent of Jews had wound up under Russian rule as Poland was dismembered by empires. Jews had pretty well run the show in Poland; not so under the Czar. Then between 1820 and 1860, the Jewish population of this expanded Russia ballooned 150 percent (compared to 87 percent growth in the non-Jewish population). There were too many restrictions and not enough outlets for the energies and talents of this high-IQ bunch.

Saint-Simon and Fourier had begun socialism as a utopian enterprise. This, unfortunately, was supplanted by Marx’s monistic historical materialism, a variety of pseudo-science. It consisted of Judaism as relentless rationalism + exuberant Messianism, the latter a Hasidic specialty. Jews could see that nationalism was problematic for them, so why not an internationalist borders-erasing ideology like Marx’s instead? The Proletariat would serve as a substitute ‘chosen people’, but Jews would be leading the way, and with their higher intelligence and greater education, they would stand in for the not-yet-ready proletarians to make up the core of the ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. Russkies just off the farm could not be expected to do so.

Hasidic Zeal Infused both Marxism and Zionism

Hasidism, Judis points out, “opposed . . . the Jewish enlightenment, which welcomed European science and culture.” Pre-Herzel, Asher Ginsberg was the original intellectual of Zionism. Continues Judis: “[I]n his conception of Zionism, he retained something of the emotional and cultural kernel of Hasidism.” Likewise Marxism, not by rejecting existing (economic) science and modern nationhood but by superseding them. With Hasidic-like zeal, Marx had begun his writing as an emotional poet of millennial destruction.

In the Pale, by 1880s, “the intelligentsia was in the grips of an intense messianic expectation of a popular revolution.” So not surprisingly, writes Slezkine, one Nikolai Berdiaev depicted socialism as a form of “Jewish religious chiliasm [millennialism], which faces the future with a passionate demand for, and anticipation of, the realization of the millennial Kingdom of God on earth and the coming of Judgment Day, when evil is finally vanquished by good, and injustice and suffering in human life cease once and for all.” Correspondingly, historian Stewart Chamberlain referred to the Jews’ “talent for planning impossible socialistic and economic Messianic empires without inquiring whether they thereby destroy the whole of civilization and culture which we have so slowly acquired.” So naturally, with the rise of Marxism, the role of Jews amongst Russian revolutionaries became ever more prominent. At the 5th Congress in 1907, 29 percent of the delegates were Jews, even though Jews constituted but 1.8 percent of the Russian population.

Of course, writes Robert Conquest, “By the end of the nineteenth century, the Marxist predictions of a capitalist failure to expand production, of a fall in the rate of profit, a decrease in wages, of increasing proletarian impoverishment and the resulting approach of revolutionary crisis in the industrial countries had all proved false.” How could violent revolution be justified now that capitalism was roaring again after the lengthy dismal depression of the late-19th century? It couldn’t, so Eduard Bernstein, Jewish, came to the rescue with a ‘Marxism-lite’ designed to infiltrate Parliamentary systems. It would keep Marxism alive to fight another day, just as Trotsky would one day put a more human face on Communism and dissipate much of the bad PR that Stalin had affixed to it.

Leonard Shapiro noted the dangers of Marx’s notion of the state evaporating. It was a Utopic fantasy. In real life it meant the destruction of legal order. And who could complain if that lawlessness simply preceded rather than followed the disappearance of the state? Naked rule by force legitimated by ideology would prevail from the outset of the revolution. Conquest emphasizes that the Communist Manifesto’s ideas have been a bane to hundreds of millions of people the world over for more than five generations.

Jacob Schiff: Enabler for the 19th Century’s Two Worst Ideas

Jacob Schiff [2]

Jacob Schiff

Jacob Schiff, writes Feingold, “controlled the Kuhn Loeb banking interests and was totally committed to using his vast wealth to alleviate the persecution of Russian Jewry.”

Elaborates Lindemann: “Schiff played a crucial role not only in denying the Russians the bonds they sought in the international market to finance the 1904–1905 war but also even more decisively in providing financial support for Japan, which then so humiliatingly defeated Russia. In Great Britain, Lucien Wolf, joined by the English Rothschilds and, in central Europe, Paul Nathan, led the efforts to isolate Russia both economically and diplomatically.”

Historian Niall Ferguson regards the Europe-based wars of the 20th century as one huge self-inflicted blow by the West upon itself, one which facilitated its own decline along with the concomitant rise of the East. The prelude to this civil war of the West began in 1904, when, writes Ferguson, the Japanese defeated the Czar at Tsushima, signalling the waning of European dominance over the East. In Buchanan’s view, “It was a victory for Japan to rival the sinking of the Spanish Armada and the worst defeat ever inflicted on a Western power by an Asian people.” (Without it, the Japanese attack 37 years later on Pearl Harbor would not even have been contemplated, and the U.S. might not have been drawn into World War II.) And absent Schiff and his Jewish-banker allies, this milestone in Western decline would not have occurred.

Schiff “delighted in the way that he and other Jews had been able to contribute to the humbling of the great Russian Empire,” writes Lindemann. Russia had come to understand that “international Jewry is a power after all” (my emphases). The consequent weakening of the Czar did have the salutary effect of encouraging something of a revolution in 1905. Yes, the gains of the 1905 revolution would be somewhat rolled back. Still, the Czar and his ministers saw their authority undermined and their ability to shape events curtailed. And Russia had itself a functioning if not very effective Parliament.

However, continues Lindemann, “Schiff was both supporting the Japanese and financing revolutionary socialist agitation among Russian prisoners of war taken by Japan.” The 1905 revolution had been mainly a peasant-driven one; Schiff foresaw that the nation could only be rid of the Czar via a bona fide revolution driven by its intellectuals, so he continued to deprive the Czar of willing lenders in the banking world. This was a winning strategy that rendered Russia ill-equipped to fight the First World War. And that was a key factor in extending the war to epic-disaster proportions. It ultimately brought in the United States, possibly the greatest disaster of the 20th century in that its outcome eventually engendered an even more-lethal Second World War.

But this was not Schiff’s only intervention against the Czarist regime. In 1911 Jacob Schiff, lawyer Louis Marshall and the American Jewish Committee sought abrogation of 1832 treaty with Russia that the Russians were using to limit Jewish visitors, though there were only four such cases in a five-year stretch. Schiff and Marshall put pressure on Congress via a New York Times series, op-eds in several city papers, petitions, letter-writing, rallies and so forth. These all framed what Russians were doing as an affront to all Americans, not just Jewish-Americans.

Incredibly, they prevailed. The 79-year-old treaty would be junked despite this not being in America’s interest and despite its junking being opposed by the president and his advisors. Though Jews were but 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. population at the time, Jewish leaders like Schiff succeeded in making a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy, solely to serve the interests of the Jewish citizens of Russia. The House approved the treaty abrogation by an astonishing 300 to 1!

The cutting of American/Russian ties further weakened the Czar’s regime on the eve of war with Germany, rendered it a less-than-effective ally of Britain and France, extended the war, helped bring on the February and October revolutions of 1917, and also helped bring about the circumstances whereby the U.S. would be called upon to replace the ‘between regimes’ spent-force of Russia by way of ally to Britain and France.

Even Schiff had second thoughts. At the end of this spectacular intervention, he would decide that Bolshevism was too universalistic and an insufficient vehicle for particularistic Jewish aspirations, and so would re-direct his to energies to furthering Zionism! Thus would Schiff become a facilitator of both of the two worst ideas of the 19th century.

Torah/Nationalist Revivalism

The first modern-era Jewish-written history of the Jews was published in 1820, nearly a millennium and a half after the last one. Modelled on an earlier Gentile-written history, it too had a cultural/religious rather than an ethno/nationalist perspective. It wasn’t until Hienrich Graetz’s multi-volume Jewish history whose first installment was published in 1860 that, according to Sand, ‘the wandering Jew’ had completed the transition from Christian myth to rabbinical Judaism and now to historical status.

Thus would Jewish nationalism seek modern Jewish identity from biblical ‘history’. The Old Testament had become marginalized by the Mishnah and Talmud commentaries on it. Zionists needed to go back to the ancient kingdom for a sense of being an ethnos or nation by way of parallel to the ethnically-based German nation. That far back there was heroism worthy of emulation. No uncompromising Jewish heroes had appeared in the interim millennia, only appeasers.

Problems with the Zionist Project, Overt and Covert 

As we have seen above, the Dreyfus affair of 1894 is what propelled Theodore Herzl and Zionism to the fore, but ironically, a nationalism more embracing of diversity resulted from the Dreyfus Affair. In other words, Herzl was proven wrong by events, and yet the built-up momentum of Zionism could not be contained (much as the momentum of Revolution could not be contained ‘February’ through ‘October’ 1917.) Attending the second Zionist Congress were 90 groups. This indicated a surfeit of enthusiasm for a cause so unlikely to succeed. After all, the population in Palestine was 93 to 96 percent Muslim and Christian, and under Ottoman rule. They owned 99 percent of the land. And in Russia, even though Yiddish culture proved so unpopular amongst surrounding peoples that pogroms and economic restrictions led to a staggering exodus of 2.5 million Russian Jews, only 3 percent chose Palestine, and few amongst those actually stayed. Hundreds of thousands wound up in Germany and added to anti-Semitism there, given that these conspicuously-eastern Jews were as unpopular with established German Jewry as with Christian Germans.

When it came to the clash of Jewish and other national identities, Jews could prosper largely without enmity within civil, universalist-based countries such as the United States and Britain, but not so easily in more ethnicity-based nations such as Germany. Ironically, it would be ethnicity-based Germany that Jewish Palestine would emulate, or was it vice versa? Zionism was a negative mirror image of anti-Jewish sentiment in the ethnicity-based nations of Europe. Too clannish? We’ll show you ‘clannish’! This went way beyond what the Bundists were doing in Russia and Europe, their goal being autonomy for Yiddish culture, not an ingathering of Jews from the world over.

Zionism appeared to confirm anti-Semitic accusations that the Jews in diaspora secretly constituted a nation that put its own interests ahead of the interests of whatever larger nation they dwelt in. Naturally, happily-assimilated Jews reacted with fury to Zionism’s appearance on the scene. Zionism seemed destined to fail while at the same time jeopardizing the well-being of Jews everywhere. In fact, there were anti-Semites around to wish God-speed to the Zionist project for reducing Jewish numbers in the diaspora. Moreover, with increasing Jewish predominance in the media, Zionist stories would generally be given a positive spin. Furthermore, Zionism borrowed extensively from the dominant nationalist ideologies of the day, and integrated them. Nationalism was having its heyday and there was no reason why the dawning of a new Zion could not partake of that reigning ethos.

            However, plunking Jews into an ‘Arab’ land surrounded Arab states never seemed a brilliant idea, apart from the ‘return-to-the-Holy-Land’ angle as a draw for religious Jews. Earlier in the century, in reaction to the Russian pogroms, Britain had offered to turn over to the world Jewish community a part of its colony in the Kenya of the day, now within Uganda. At least there, the Brits controlled the whole region, and the Jews’ would-be neighbours certainly had no history of conflict with Jews (as occurred in Palestine for decades prior to the UN’s partition proposal for 1948.) However, an investigative mission by Zionists to the area found it too alien to Jewish sensibilities. Absent Palestine’s biblical background, European Jews might have found Palestine just as insalubrious. Moreover, conflict with the neighbors in Palestine was not just inevitable, it was planned.