Jewish Nationalism and Palestine


[The American Review of Reviews, June 1918]

The question of Zionism, so much discussed, so variously interpreted, is treated at length in a penetrating and fair spirit by R. P. Lagrange in the Correspondant (Paris).

After an elaborate historical retrospect he goes on to discuss the present aspects of Zionism:

It is to the spiritual leaders, always so influential with the Jews—he says—that we look to determine the conditions of the movement. Its horizon is boundless, putting in action the three great modern forces: the rights of nationalities; the rights of conscience; money.

The world is preparing for a new order in which nationalism will be respected. Will Israel be the only one whose rights will be disregarded? No one maintains that. But has it the right to become an autonomous nation in Palestine? Is it, for that matter, even to its own interest?

Up to the present it possesses only colonies there, peacefully admitted. By what right do they claim the soil? One often hears: "We were expelled by the conquest; we have a right, to return." But that is contrary to fact. The Romans never expelled the Jews from Palestine; they only forbade them to enter Jerusalem, rescinding that order, too, later on. Gradually the Country became Islamite. Judaism maintained itself better in the Christian states—a proof, by the way, that their rule was milder, that Palestine is not essential to its existence.

Has a people that has voluntarily left a country an inalienable right to it after the lapse of centuries? It is truly strange that the Jews who speak ever of right, justice, and liberty, concern themselves so little about the rights of the people of Palestine. Presumably, the Zionists would offer them a money indemnity in case of expropriation, but it is doubtful whether the peasants would consent to abandon the soil where they have labored and toiled.

But let us admit that all will proceed peaceably. Whatever the rights claimed by the Zionists, one may be sure that under an English protectorate their enterprise will be conducted justly and humanely. The Zionism now to the fore is that of M. Weizman, head of the English Zionists, who publicly declared that "the conditions are not yet ripe for the establishment of a Jewish state."

Now, to speak frankly, colonization is but a way-station. Some great bankers were at first probably impelled by the laudable aim of bettering the condition of their persecuted co-religionists. Baron de Hirsch sent them to Argentina, Baron de Rothschild to Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of picture-postals exhibiting the distress of the Jews of Jerusalem were sent by these to America. The Turks were partly responsibly for their condition. But one can not hope wholly to change the economic conditions of the country. Judea will always, remain an arid mountain region, with a fertile strip along the sea; Galilee is more fruitful. To be sure, the land may be enriched by intensive culture, but that is not the prime aim of the Zionists: it is to form a nation, a religious nation.

Ask the French Jews what they think, of the tolerance of their co-religionists in Palestine! Of course, not all are equally narrow and bigoted. However, most of the Jews will go to the Holy Land, as has hitherto been the case, with a view to the free exercise of their laws, but also with that of a strict subjection to them. They will be the holy, the royal nation, awaiting their King. Will the unity of the race be menaced? We can not tell. But. one may readily imagine that not all Jews will be gratified to see that type loom up in the Orient, a type which will perhaps excommunicate them every morning, and to which they will, nolens volens, be likened. Such, at least, is what one gathers from an article by R. P. Boas in the New York Times, where he says: the non-Zionists do not wish to be made responsible for the acts of a "Jewish people" rallied around a Jewish flag. If the program of the Zionists is to be realized it will disrupt the unity of the Jewish race. In France, Zionism has often been combated as an instrument of German influence. Such it certainly has been. If German is the language most spoken in Jerusalem, it is due to the Jews.

What the writer insists upon is that the Jews of Europe and America might well be embarrassed by that center (foyer) of Hebrew life—for it will be difficult to curb its pretensions. Israelites will no longer be strangers in the Holy Land—they will run danger of becoming such everywhere else. No one combats their right to be a nation; but it would be excessive to claim two countries. We can have but one, just as we have but one mother. But if the Jews belong primarily to a Jewish state, how can one repress a feeling of distrust?

In fact, the dispersion has not prevented Judaism from preserving its faith intact. It is, indeed, the destruction of the Temple that caused it to develop into a spiritual religion. It is not that there is nothing to be done. After a long inertia, Israel has zealously resumed the study of its Holy Scriptures. The center of awakening is in America. Already before the war the establishment of a great Hebrew university in Jerusalem was contemplated.

We do not ask Judaism [the writer concludes] to renounce its rightful share of the benefits of our time, but the lesson. that stands out from its history since 70 A. D. is: that when it emphasizes its national character it exposes itself to grave danger, dissensions without, strife within. We admit frankly that the Jewish problem strikes us as insoluble. Israel can not assimilate itself wholly with the nations because it does not wish to forfeit its solidarity; nor divide itself from them to constitute a separate people, because it can not find anywhere a habitation which would suffice and compensate it for the advantages of the dispersion.

What then, is to be done? Continue to steer a middle course, prudently avoiding extremes. Everything points to the prospect that the leaders, of Israel, aided, if need be, by others, will strengthen Zionism by yielding to it in moderate measure. Then the Israelites will resume the course of their destiny, an object of wonder among men, but especially of the providence of God, who does not forget the promises made to the patriarchs.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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