The Issues Of The War And The Jewish Position

By H. M. Kallen

[The Nation; November 29, 1917]

"His Majesty's Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use its best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

In these words the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, speaking for the British Government admits the Jewish people to an equal status with the Belgians, the Serbs, the Poles, and the other nationalities whose corporate rights are in issue in this civil war to make the world safe for democracy. They are words momentous for the Jews, and momentous for the world. They mark, in more ways than one, the close of an epoch in the history of mankind in Christian Europe. From the day in the year 339 when the Emperor of Rome deprived his Jewish subjects of the right to citizenship in his Christian dominion, to the invasion of Belgium by Kultur and beyond, Jews have collectively and individually lived under disabilities that ranged from the mediæval rigors of dynastic Russia and Junker-ridden Rumania to the fading survivals of social prejudice in England and America. Indeed, the democracy of a country can be accurately gauged by the attitude of its Government and people towards their Jewish countrymen. It is true, none the less, that in even the freest of countries certain disabilities persist, and that anti-Jewish Agitation, on one ground or another, recurs sporadically. That this is natural, the very brief history which accrues to democracy in Europe makes evident. In lands with free institutions the enfranchisement of the non-Jewish masses dates, at its most ancient, from the French Revolution, and the enfranchisement of the Jew is hardly more than a couple of generations old. In the backward states, Jews share the political disabilities of the proletarians: a free Russia has meant a free Jewry, while no treaty can do anything for the Jews of Rumania without the relief of the terribly oppressed Rumanian peasantry from their Junker masters, if then.

The reason is that political establishments of the dynastic and bureaucratic type use the Jews as a convenient buffer between themselves and the rising discontent of their peoples. Thus, when the war broke out, seven and more of the ten-odd million Jews in the world lived in Russia and in Austria. More than half of these were concentrated in Poland, Lithuania, and Galicia. Their ancestors had settled in these regions centuries ago, on the invitation of a Polish king, who needed them to build up the Tartar-devastated country. He had given them a charter, which his successors extended and confirmed, and under this charter, which was ignored by participants in the crime of the partition of Poland, but never revoked, they lived with varying degrees of the full national autonomy it granted them. The regions they inhabited are the eastern field of warfare. When its fortunes revealed to the Russian people the treachery of their government, the Government, as was its wont, used the Jews as its scapegoat, fathering on them all its crimes. Their consequent treatment at the hands of the simple Russian peasant armies left nothing to be desired in atrocities. The benevolent Poles added their noble bit, and the invading Germans, whose official classes are the protagonists of an anti-Jewish philosophy, and who were, moreover, playing politics with the Poles, did not deviate from the programme which has so benefited Belgium. The present record of their treatment of the Jews in the invaded portions of Lithuania and Poland satisfies even their rigorous standards of frightfulness. So, of all the tragedies of the war, the tragedy of the Jew has been the greatest. Enlisted in all the armies of the fighting world, with the overwhelming bulk of them in the armies of the Entente, they were permitted no portion in the cause for which they were pouring out their blood. That cause was peculiarly theirs. Yet they were equally the victims of its enemies and defenders.

The position of the Jewish non-combatants in the war-devastated region was only a terrible aggravation, of their position in times of peace. Wherever Jews were, they were regarded as not quite "belonging," as somehow foreign. The aboriginal and basic cause of this regard is religious prejudice, and this prejudice derives from the peculiar position of the Jewish people in the fundamental doctrine of Christianity. According to this doctrine the Jews had been God's chosen people. To them He had revealed Himself, with them made his covenant, and to them sent his only-begotten son for the redemption of sin-cursed mankind. The Jews-, however, had rejected the God-born Messiah and had nailed him to the cross. For this, they were accurst by God, cast out beyond the pale of the society of the saved, to live in disaster and dispersion till the Messiah's second coming. Every one in Europe knew this story of the Jew, from the serf with iron collar round his neck to the Holy Roman Emperor with an iron crown on his head. Europe was Christian, and the story fixed the Jew's place, not only in the religious, but in the political and social tradition of that continent. It set him beyond the law, tended to make him fearful, furtive, and fawning, to undermine his self-respect and destroy his nervous system. It made him the easy scapegoat for any malevolence any predacious power chose to attribute to him. By excluding the Jews from the common life of mankind, it threw them back upon themselves and their law. And their law saved them. The intensive elaboration of its prescriptions, the integration of their precarious community, the development and extension of their literary and philosophic tradition gave them healthy occupation. Such periods of comparative freedom from persecution rectified their intense self-consciousness with the perspective of achievement in the Moslem and Christian world. Without any territory definitely their own, with no civil or other rights before the law, without arms, or anything but an intense self-consciousness and a loyalty to their national tradition, they constituted, nevertheless, an imperium in imperio.

This rendered the position of the individual Jew peculiarly ambiguous—a citizen of no land, yet a subject of any ruler who chose to claim him. In many cases he learned to think of himself as the scornful Christian thought of him He learned to resent the "accident" of birth into fellowship with a "peculiar" people and the disabilities this birth imposed. When the French Revolution brought him the opportunity to enter the wider world, he was eager to abandon everything which distinguished him from his French or German or Russian or Polish neighbor, to abandon, that is, the whole cultural organization of his people. What is known as "reform Judaism" is this attempt at political and social liberation by throwing over Jewishness. It is assent to the Christian conception that what is Jewish is bad. Under its operation Jews became amateur Gentiles in the practices of life and "Hebrews" in the speech of those who wanted to avoid offence by calling them Jews.

For the last two generations, the Jews of the world have been divided into two classes—the small, well-to-do, "assimilations" minority, anxious to extirpate everything that might stand between them and their ambitions in the Gentile world, and the great impoverished, persecuted, and exploited majority, constituting by any criterion you choose a clear, defined nationality hungry for freedom to live out its group-life in its own way, in its own land. The earliest ideal expression of this hunger is the religion of this majority with ritual and prayer directed towards the old agricultural economy of Zion, whereto Jehovah is in his own good time to restore his scattered people. The last and most efficacious ideal expression of this hunger is Zionism. This movement is the restatement of the religious aspiration in terms, a humanistic, political, and social programme. It reënforces the devout Jew's power to suffer with the modern Jew's imaginative courage and power to do. Its leadership has two sources—those Jews who had passed through the "assimilationist" stage and come out on the other side, and those who had grown up within the great Jewish community and had assimilated to the Hebraic spirit of their inheritance the whole achievement of modern civilization: Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwell, Louis Brandeis, the Rothschilds; Achad Ha'am, Tschlenow, Sokolow, Wolffson, the Wissotskis, the whole line of neo-Hebrew and of Yiddish poets and historians and thinkers. Zionism met, of course, with instantaneous resistance from the "assimilationist" interests, they being terrified less they should lose the position for which they had paid so heavily. For Zionism asserts all they had been at pains to deny. Regarding the facts, it declares the Jews a nationality equally entitled with others to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They, regarding their flesh-pots, declared them to be a religious sect, not otherwise different from the French, Germans, English, Russians, or Poles among whom they live. Zionism, regarding the facts, declares that the people must for themselves establish their status and destiny. Assimilationism, regarding its social position, tries to legislate for the Jewish nationality from without and above. It confronted the Jewish democratic statesman with the Hof-Jude, numbers with money, idealism with an appeal to self-interest. It fought a losing fight from the start.

So the situation defined itself when German dynastic aggression started its assault upon civilization, compelling the world's thought to turn its attention finally upon the ultimate causes at issue. The survey of the history of democracy in the western world, of the rise and development and operation there of the principle of nationality, revealed the interdependence and neutral implications of both repeatedly outlined in the statements of Messrs. Asquith and Lloyd George and President Wilson. The events leading up to the ends for which the democratic powers are at war are momentous. Modern Europe begins with the mediaeval assumption of the identity of church and state, the church using the state to enforce religious conformity. The Middle Ages is the period of religious imperialism, With the Protestant Reformation this imperialism is shattered, to be followed by religious nationalism. States disable dissenters with the infinite variety that the ingenuity of the creed-monger is so distinguished for. In Protestantism sects multiply, however, and the alternative to tolerance is anarchy or rebellion. Hence little by little the absolute divorce between church and state which political theory advocated from the beginning gets achieved in the compromises of political practice. What helps more than anything else to secure this end is the steady secularization of mankind by the substitution of scientific industrial and æsthetic interests for the religious ones, so that finally citizenship is altogether detached from adherence to a special confession.

The lost political prerogative of the church, is, however, monopolized by the nationality. Democracy brought to Europe by the French Revolution, and threatened by Napoleonic imperialism, awakened the sleeping nationalities of Europe to consciousness, the desire for unity, freedom, and autonomy. At first a call to self-defence and self-respect, as in the utterances of Fichte and Mazzini, the call to nationality became, under the influence of their theorizing successors in Germany, a call to aggression and empire in the name of national cultures. Religious imperialism was succeeded by cultural imperialism, with its extraordinary Aryan myth, its monstrous missionary paranoia, its demand that all mankind shall abandon their own grown fruits of the spirit to live by that made in Germany. From the centre there, the venomous infection spread to Russia, to Turkey; and Messrs. Roosevelt and Maxse are signs that even the United States and England did not escape a touch of it. Pan-Germanism and policies of Germanification were paralleled by pan-Slavism and policies of Russification, and so on, down the line of national hegemonies in central and eastern Europe. England alone, thanks to the character of her empire, escaped the evils of infection, and the eventualities of the war have shown how wise her democratic statesmanship has been. Its issues have justified her, as they have, even more, America.

What they have taught the democracies of the world is essentially this: that there is no more necessary connection between nationality and citizenship than between religion and citizenship, A nationality is a very intimate form of historic and cultural creative association, related to the group as personality is to the individual. To function effectively, it must be even freer and more self-governed than a church. A state is a secondary form of association designed by those who participate in it. I am speaking, of course, from the democratic standpoint—to secure them "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A nationality is creative, a state regulative. The state's business is to prevent the encroachment or persecution of individuals and associations upon and by one another, to keep opportunity equal, to do justice. Citizenship, thus, is independent of nationality and a safeguard of it, as it is of religion, in every free land—in Switzerland, in the United States, in the British Empire. Just states, free states, secure freedom of nationality as they do freedom of worship.

Now it is freedom so understood that the Jewish people have always represented. Loyal and devoted citizens of whatever state they lived in, they have also remained, en masse, a self-reverent national community, an historic organization true to its traditions of spirit and vision. They are history's greatest and oldest incarnation of the casus belli. Their record of significant contribution to the economic and political liberation of the peoples of Europe derives directly from their own national constitution and the life it enjoined, and it is a record, made in the process of their undergoing a hundred Belgian tragedies. For a millennium and a half the whole of Europe has waged war upon them, bitter and relentless. They have suffered it without resistance, and they have survived. They are the living refutation of the whole Teutonic philosophy of military enterprise. Enough food to keep life together and to nourish the coming generation, a system of education, perseverance in the endeavors of peace, loyalty to the spiritual forms of the group-life—these, not war, give a culture life, and cause it to prevail. What the Jewish nationality has ever asked for, hence, has been, not the sovereignty that constitutes a state, but freedom to achieve those excellences appropriate to its nature, and through this achievement to make its contribution to the free-trade of the spirit among nationalities that we call civilization.

"Zionism," says Mr. Justice Brandeis, "seeks to establish in Palestine, for such Jews as choose to go and remain there, and for their descendants, a legally secured home, where they may live together and lead a Jewish life, where they may expect ultimately to constitute a majority of the population, and may look forward to what we should call home rule. The Zionists seek to establish this home in Palestine because they are convinced that the undying longing of Jews for Palestine is a fact of deepest significance; that it is a manifestation in the struggle for existence by an ancient people which had established its right to live—a people whose three thousand years of civilization has produced a faith, culture, and individuality which enable them to contribute largely in the future, as they had in the past, to the advance of civilization; and that it is not a right merely, but a duty of the Jewish nationality to survive and develop. They believe that there only can Jewish life be fully protected from the forces of disintegration; that there alone can the Jewish spirit reach its full and natural development; and that by securing for those Jews who wish to settle in Palestine the opportunity to do so, not only those Jews, but all other Jews will be benefited and that the long perplexing Jewish Problem will, at last, find solution."

And in the course of a generation they have laid in Palestine the foundation for the excellences they hope to attain. In this land, desolate through neglect, they have built, against the resistance of nature and of man, with great devotion and hardship, forty prosperous, self-governing agricultural colonies; for the slums of its cities they had begun to substitute modern sanitary dwellings; for disease, hygiene and hospital service; for a mediaeval and restricted educational system, a radically modern one, from kindergarten to university, and to be directed by the society of teachers, not trustees, nor Aldermen. Their chief instruments—the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Colonial Trust, the Anglo-Palestine Company—are constituted upon the principle of democratic control of the fiscal and industrial machinery of the nation, and their use aimed always to eliminate as nearly as might be the avoidable injustices which are the social problems of modern states. The war has endangered this whole achievement. It has brought death and starvation to Palestine also, and has there undermined the credit upon which the work is done. Yet so completely did the fiscal instruments of Zionism have the confidence of the non-Jewish as well as the Jewish population of Palestine that its paper was preferred above all others, even that of the Government. It and the other institutions are under English charter. They have been shaken, but by tremendous effort the Zionists have kept them from shattering.

The association of Zionism with England dates from its very beginnings. The English mind understands nationality. Its statesmanship has been sympathetic towards the Zionist programme from the days of Joseph Chamberlain on. Mr. Balfour's declaration is but the most recent step in the fulfilment of the English desire to help right the greatest of historic wrongs. It is a step taken, the Zionist Organization confidently infers, with "the approval of all the Entente Powers, and will have the unquestioned support and approbation of the Government of the United States." The statement is issued, moreover, at the moment when the agitation of anti-Jewish Jews against Zionism is most intense, and is the direct effect of negotiations of more than two years between the Zionist Organization and the British Government. It is a first step in the candid and disinterested application of "the principle of nationality" to the solution of international problems.

Of those, the "Jewish problem" is the oldest. Its solution through Zionism by the concentration of a free and self-governing and creative commonwealth of Jews in the Palestinian homeland rests upon the fact that the existence of such a commonwealth will abolish the ambiguity of the Jewish position elsewhere. A Jew will be able to say with reference to a definite political Jewish entity—"I belong there" or "I do not belong there." If the Belgian, Servian, Russian, or any nationality does not constitute a problem as do the Jews, it is because these peoples actually inhabit as majorities politically definite areas universally acknowledged to be their homelands. The definition by public law of the ancient home of the Jewish people as their actual centre of life will work the same effect for the Jews. This is the intention of Mr. Balfour's statement. By virtue of it, the Jewish people appears, for the first time since the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, as a recognized equal in the family of nationalities, acknowledged as such by the foremost democratic commonwealth in the world. By virtue of it an evil thing has gone out of Europe, never to come back. Its implications are not merely the conditions and purposes of the war. Its implications are science, industry, democracy, the whole growth of that torturous and bloody liberation of the masses of men from their oppressors in which consists the humanization. of mankind.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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