It was anti-Semitism - alone - that generated Zionism. Herzl could not ground his movement in anything positively Jewish. Although he sought the support of the rabbis, he personally was not devout. He had no special concern for Palestine, the ancient homeland ; he was quite eager to accept the Kenya Highlands, at least on a temporary basis. He had no interest in Hebrew ; he saw his Jewish state as a linguistic Switzerland. He had to think of race, for it was in the air ; the Teutonic anti-Semites were talking of the Jews as a race, but he soon discarded the doctrine, and gave a paradoxical discussion with Israel Zangwill, one of his earliest adherents, as the instance for his rejection. He portrayed the Anglo-Jewish writer as :
of the long-nosed Negro type, with wooly deep-black hair... He maintains, however, the racial point of view - something I can't accept, for I have merely to look at him and at myself. All I say is : we are an historical unit, one nation with anthropological diversities.(1)
Unconcerned with religion, he even proposed that an atheist, the then world-famous author, Max Nordau, should succeed him as the WZO's President. Again, the disciple was less liberal than the master. Nordau was married to a Christian, and was afraid that his wife would be resented by the Orthodox among the ranks.(2) He was already married when he converted to Zionism and, despite his own Gentile wife, he soon became a confirmed Jewish racist. On 21 December 1903 he gave an interview to Eduard Drumont's rabid anti-Semitic newspaper, La Libre Parole, in which he said that Zionism wasn't a question of religion, but exclusively of race, and there is no one with whom I am in greater agreement on this point than M. Drumont'.(3)
Although only one national branch of the WZO (the Dutch Federation in 1913) ever went to the trouble of trying formally to exclude Jews living in mixed marriages, cosmopolitan Zionism died an early death with Herzl in 1904.(4) The WZO as such never had to take a position against mixed marriage ; those who believed in it rarely thought to join the obviously unsympathetic Zionists. The movement in Eastern Europe, its mass base, shared the spontaneous folk-religious prejudices of the Orthodox communities around them. Although the ancient Jews had seen proselytising and marriages to Gentiles as adding to their strength, latter pressure from the Catholic Church caused the rabbis to begin to see converts as a 'troublesome itch' and they abandoned proselytising. With the centuries, self-segregation became the hallmark of the Jews. In time the masses came to see mixed marriage as treason to Orthodoxy. Although in the West some Jews modified the religion and formed 'Reform' sects and others abandoned the God of their forefathers, the traffic was essentially away from Judaism. Few joined the Jewish world either by conversion or marriage. If Western Zionism developed in a more secular atmosphere than that of Eastern Europe, the bulk of its members still saw mixed marriage as leading Jews away from the community rather than bringing new additions to it.
The German university graduates, who took over the Zionist movement after Herzl's death, developed the modernist-racist ideology of Jewish separatism. They had been powerfully influenced by their pan-Germanic fellow students of the Wandervogel (wandering birds or free spirits) who dominated the German campuses before 1914. These chauvinists rejected the Jews as not being of Germanic Blut ; therefore they could never be part of the German volk and were thoroughly alien to the Teutonic Boden or soil. All Jewish students were compelled to grapple with these concepts which surrounded them. A few moved left and joined the Social Democrats. To them this was just more bourgeois nationalism and was to be fought as such. Most remained conventionally Kaiser-treu, stout nationalists who insisted that a thousand years on the German boden had made them into 'Germans of the Mosaic persuasion'. But a portion of the Jewish students adopted the wandervogel ideology whole and simply translated it into Zionist terminology. They agreed with the anti-Semites on several key points : the Jews were not part of the German volk and, of course, Jews and Germans should not mix sexually, not for the traditional religious reasons, but for the sake of their own unique blut. Not being of Teutonic Blut, they perforce had to have their own Boden : Palestine.
At first glance it would appear strange that middle-class Jewish students should be so influenced by anti-Semitic thought, especially as at the same time, socialism, with its assimilationist attitudes towards the Jews, was gaining considerable support in the society around them. However, socialism appealed primarily to the workers, not to the middle class. In their environment chauvinism predominated ; although intellectually they repudiated their connection with the German people, in fact they never emancipated themselves from the German capitalist class, and throughout the First World War the German Zionists passionately supported their own government. For all their grandiose intellectual pretensions, their voelkisch Zionism was simply an imitation of German nationalist ideology. Thus the young philosopher Martin Buber was able to combine Zionism with ardent German patriotism during the First World War. In his book Drei Reden ueber das Judentum, published in 1911, Buber spoke of a youth who :
senses in this immortality of the generations a community of blood, which he feels to be the antecedents of his I, its perseverance in the infinite past. To that is added the discovery, promoted by this awareness, that blood is a deep rooted nurturing force within individual man ; that the deepest layers of our being are determined by blood ; that our innermost thinking and our will are colored by it. Now he finds that the world around him is the world of imprints and influences, whereas blood is the realm of a substance capable of being imprinted and influenced, a substance absorbing and assimilating all into its own form Whoever, faced with the choice between environment and substance, decides for substance will henceforth have to be a Jew truly from within, to live as a Jew with all the contradiction, all the tragedy, and all the future promise of his blood.(5)
The Jews had been in Europe for millenniums, far longer than, say, the Magyars. No one would dream of referring to the Hungarians as Asiatics, yet, to Buber, the Jews of Europe were still Asians and presumably always would be. You could get the Jew out of Palestine, but you could never get Palestine out of the Jew. In 1916 he wrote that the Jew :
was driven out of his land and dispersed throughout the lands of the Occident yet, despite all this, he has remained an Oriental One can detect all this in the most assimilated Jew, if one knows how to gain access to his soul... the immortal Jewish unitary drive - this will come into being only after the continuity of life in Palestine... Once it comes into contact with its maternal soil, it will once more become creative.(6)
However, Buber's voelkisch Zionism, with its assorted strands of mystical enthusiasm, was too spiritual to appeal to a wide following. What was needed was a popular Zionist version of the social-Darwinism which had swept the bourgeois intellectual world in the wake of Europe's imperial conquests in Africa and the East. The Zionist version of this notion was developed by the Austrian anthropologist Ignatz Zollschan. To him the secret value of Judaism was that it had, albeit inadvertently, worked to produce a wonder of wonders :
a nation of pure blood, not tainted by diseases of excess or immorality, of a highly developed sense of family purity, and of deeply rooted virtuous habits would develop an exceptional intellectual activity. Furthermore, the prohibition against mixed marriage provided that these highest ethnical treasures should not be lost, through the admixture of less carefully bred races... there resulted that natural selection which has no parallel in the history of the human race... If a race that is so highly gifted were to have the opportunity of again developing its original power, nothing could equal it as far as cultural value is concerned.(7)
Even Albert Einstein subscribed to the Zionist race conceptions and in so doing he reinforced racism, lending it the prestige of his reputation. His own contributions to the discussion sound suitably profound, but they are based on the same nonsense.
Nations with a racial difference appear to have instincts which work against their fusion. The assimilation of the Jews to the European nations... could not eradicate the feeling of lack of kinship between them and those among whom they lived. In the last resort, the instinctive feeling of lack of kinship is referable to the law of the conservation of energy. For this reason it cannot be eradicated by any amount of well meant pressure.(8)
Buber, Zollschan and Einstein were but three among the classic Zionists who pontificated learnedly on race purity. But for sheer fanaticism few could match the American Maurice Samuel. A well-known writer in his day - later, in the 1940s, he was to work with Weizmann on the latter's autobiography - Samuel addressed the American public in 1927 in his I, the Jew. He denounced with horror a town which he readily conceded that he only knew by repute - and that the evidence would make us think was the free-living artists' colony at Taos, New Mexico :
there came together into this small place, representatives of the African Negro, the American and Chinese Mongol, the Semite and the Aryan... free intermarriage had set in... Why does this picture, part actual, part fanciful, fill me with a strange loathing, suggest the obscene, the obscurely beastly ?... Why then does that village which my fancy conjures up call to mind a heap of reptiles breeding uglily in a bucket ? (9)
"To be a Good Zionist one must be Somewhat of an Anti-Semite"
Although Blut was a recurrent theme in pre-Holocaust Zionist literature, it was not as central to its message as Boden. As long as America, s shores remained open, Europe's Jews asked : if anti-Semitism could not be fought on its home ground, why should they not just follow the crowd to America ? The Zionist response was double-barrelled : anti-Semitism would accompany the Jews wherever they went and, what was more, it was the Jews who had created anti-Semitism by their own characteristics. The root cause of anti-Semitism, Zionists insisted, was the Jews' exile existence. Jews lived parasitically off their 'hosts'. There were virtually no Jewish peasants in the Diaspora. The Jews lived in cities, they were alienated from manual labour or, more bluntly, they shunned it and preoccupied themselves with intellectual or commercial concerns. At best, their claims of patriotism were hollow as they wandered eternally from country to country. And when they fancied themselves as socialists and internationalists, in reality they were still no more than the middlemen of the revolution, fighting 'other people's battles'. These tenets combined were known as shelilat ha'galut (the Negation of the Diaspora), and were held by the entire spectrum of Zionists who varied only on matters of detail. They were argued vigorously in the Zionist press, where the distinctive quality of many articles was their hostility to the entire Jewish people. Anyone reading these pieces without knowing their source would have automatically assumed that they came from the anti-Semitic press. The Weltanschauung of the youth organisation Hashomer Hatzair (Young Watchmen), originally composed in 1917, but republished again as late as 1936, was typical of these effusions :
The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligations, knows no order nor discipline. (10)
Similarly, in 1935 an American, Ben Frommer, a writer for the ultraright Zionist-Revisionists, could declare of no less than 16 million of his fellow Jews that :
The fact is undeniable that the Jews collectively are unhealthy and neurotic. Those professional Jews who, wounded to the quick, indignantly deny this truth are the greatest enemies of their race, for they thereby lead them to search for false solutions, or at most palliatives. (11)
This style of Jewish self-hatred permeated a great deal of Zionist writing. In 1934 Yehezkel Kaufman, then famous as a scholar of biblical history at Jerusalem's Hebrew University and himself a Zionist, though an opponent of the bizarre theory of the Negation of the Diaspora, aroused furious controversy by culling the Hebrew literature for yet worse examples. In Hebrew the ranters could really attack their fellow Jews without fear of being accused of providing ammunition for the Jew-haters. Kaufman's Hurban Hanefesh (Holocaust of the Soul) cited three of the classic Zionist thinkers. For Micah Yosef Berdichevsky the Jews were 'not a nation, not a people, not human'. To Yosef Chaim Brenner they were nothing more than 'Gypsies, filthy dogs, inhuman, wounded, dogs'. To A.D. Gordon his people were no better than 'parasites, people fundamentally useless.' (12)
Naturally Maurice Samuel had to apply his fine hand to concocting libels against his fellow Jews. In 1924, in his work You Gentiles, he fabricated a Jewry driven by its own sinister demiurge to oppose the Christian social order :
We Jews, we the destroyers, will remain the destroyers forever. NOTHING that you will do will meet our needs and demands. We will forever destroy because we need a world of our own, a God-world, which is not your nature to build... those of us who fail to understand that truth will always be found in alliance with your rebellious factions, until disillusionment comes, the wretched fate which scattered us through your midst has thrust this unwelcome role upon us.(13)
Labour Zionism produced its own unique brand of Jewish self-hatred. In spite of its name and pretensions, Labour Zionism was never able to win over any significant section of the Jewish working class in any country cf the Diaspora. Its members had a self-defeating argument : they claimed that the Jewish workers were in 'marginal' industries, such as the needle trades, which were unessential to the economy of the 'host', nations, and therefore the Jewish workers would always be marginal to the working-class movement in the countries of their abode. Jewish workers, it was claimed, could only wage a 'healthy' class struggle in their own land. Naturally poor Jews showed little interest in a so-called labour movement that did not tell them to put their all into fighting in the immediate present for better conditions, but rather to concern themselves about far-off Palestine. Paradoxically, Labour Zionism's primary appeal was to those young middle-class Jews who sought to break with their class origins, but were not prepared to go over to the workers of the country of their habitation. Labour Zionism became a kind of counter-culture sect, denouncing Jewish Marxists for their internationalism, and the Jewish middle class as parasitic exploiters of the 'host', nations. In effect they translated traditional anti-Semitism into Yiddish : the Jews were in the wrong countries in the wrong occupations and had the wrong politics. It took the Holocaust to bring these Jeremiahs to their senses. Only then did they appreciate the common voice in their own message and the Nazis' anti-Jewish propaganda. In March 1942 Chaim Greenberg, then the editor of New York's Labour Zionist organ, Jewish Frontier, painfully admitted that, indeed, there had been :
a time when it used to be fashionable for Zionist speakers (including the writer) to declare from the platform that 'To be a good Zionist one must be somewhat of an anti-Semite'. To this day Labor Zionist circles are under the influence of the idea that the Return to Zion involved a process of purification from our economic uncleanliness. Whosoever doesn't engage in so-called 'productive' manual labor is believed to be a sinner against Israel and against mankind. (14)
'Grist to the Mills of Nazi Propaganda'
If, without further facts, anyone were told that the early Zionists were racists, it would be automatic to assume this to be a part of the colonialist aspects of Zionism in Palestine. In reality this is not so ; Blut Zionism would have evolved even if Palestine were to have been completely empty. Enthusiasm for Blut und Boden were part of Zionism before the first modern Zionist ever left Europe.
Race Zionism was a curious offshoot of racial anti-Semitism. True, these Zionists argued, the Jews were a pure race, certainly purer than, say, the Germans who, as even the pan-Germanics conceded, had a huge admixture of Slavic blood. But to these Zionists, even their racial purity could not overcome the one flaw in Jewish existence : they did not have their own Jewish Boden. If the Teutonic racists could see themselves as uebermenschen (supermen), these Hebrew racists did not see the Jews in that light ; rather, it was the reverse. They believed that because they lacked their own boden the Jews were untermenschen and therefore, for their 'hosts', little more than leeches : the world pest.
If one believes in the validity of racial exclusiveness, it is difficult to object to anyone else's racism. If one believes further that it is impossible for any people to be healthy except in their own homeland, then one cannot object to anyone else excluding 'aliens' from their territory. In fact the average Zionist never thought of himself as leaving civilised Europe for the wilds of Palestine. In life it is obvious that Zionist blut und boden provided an excellent rationale for not fighting anti-Semitism on its home ground. It was not the fault of the anti-Semites, it was because of the Jews' own misfortune of being in exile. The Zionists could tearfully argue that the loss of Palestine was the root cause of anti-Semitism and the regaining of Palestine was the only solution to the Jewish question. Everything else could only be palliative or futile.
Walter Laqueur, the doyen of Zionist historians, has asked in his book, A History of Zionism, if Zionist insistence on the naturalness of anti-Semitism was not just 'grist to the mill of Nazi propaganda'.(15) It certainly was. Laqueur's question can best be answered with another question : is it difficult to understand the gullible reader of a Nazi newspaper, who concluded that what was said by the Nazis, and agreed to by the Zionists - Jews - had to be right ?
There would be worse : any Jewish movement that prattled on about the naturalness of anti-Semitism would, just as 'naturally', seek to come to terms with the Nazis when they came to power.
This text is a chapter of <Zionism in the Age of the Dictators - a Reappraisal>, by Lenni Brenner.
The copyright (©) belongs to the author. It was published by Croom Helm, Kent (Great-Britain) and Laurence Hill, Westport, Conn. in the USA, 277 p. ISBN (GB) 0-7099-0628-5; USA (paperback) 0-88208-164-0 in 1983. This book has been out of print for years.
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