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Arunansh B Goswami
An Indo-Israeli friendship ambassador.

Prime Minister of France Léon Blum A Proud Zionist

First Léon Blum Government France. Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

A worthy homeland, equal and free for every Jew”

– Léon Blum in a letter to Dr. Chaim Weizmann about State of Israel. 

Left Wing and Zionism

Speech by Léon Blum at the Socialist Congress, 1932. Image Credits: Agence de presse Meurisse via Wikimedia Commons CC0.

Today the global Left Wing and Zionists around the world indulge in ideological sabre-rattling quite often with the Left bordering overt anti-Semitism by their hatred of Israel, because of the supposedly Bourgeoise led so called colonial project of settler nationalism that made the state of Israel, but if we look in the annals of French political history, we find a period of time when French left was an active cheer leader of Israel, thanks to a man who became Prime Minister of France three times Léon Blum. First things first the Left today needs to understand why Léon Blum was a proud Leftist but at the same time a proud Zionist, Zionism is not an ideology of ethnocentric assertion for dominance, but an ideology of obliteration of systemic persecution paving the way, for the progress of the Jewish people as a whole, manifested politically as nation state of Israel in the comity of nations. Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, who had been elected to the Paris Municipal Council and who later became Vichy’s second Commissioner General for Jewish Affairs, declared, “If I so desire, 10,000 men would descend onto the street and kill 100,000 Jews. I could just as well kill Léon Blum. Hitler was right to kick the Jews the hell out.” This one statement shows how difficult it was for the Jews to live in France, and why Zionism is important for the sake of humanity, where Jews are treated as fellow humans and not sub-human creatures. 

Zionism is an ideology of connecting with the past, of the Jewish nation long suppressed, exiled from their land returning for good. If we look in the annals of world history we find several stalwarts who believed in and worked for the Zionist cause starting with Theodore Herzl, to Dr. Chaim Weizmann and Léon Blum the former French Prime who is the protagonist of this article. When it comes to Europe we find that, France along with Italy has been a leader in electing Jewish leaders as Prime Ministers, while French elected three Jews Léon Blum, René Mayer and Pierre Mendès France as their Prime Ministers, the Italians elected Alessandro Fortis, Sidney Sonnino and Luigi Luizatti as their Prime Ministers of Jewish origin, it is high time that more countries around the world give chance to the Jews in their country to be more visible politically and God willing head their country one day.

Young Blum

Young Léon Blum. Image Credits: Wikimedia Common.

It was in a Jewish family with deep roots in Alsace in the region of eastern France that was the origin of a deeply patriotic strain of French Judaism, which was successful in preserving its distinctive customs, traditions, and social forms despite the universalistic orientation of French republicanism, that Léon Blum was born on April 9, 1872. The author would like to mention that he had an opportunity to visit Alsace which he readily availed and explored its’s Jewish culture few months ago, the readers should visit this beautiful region too and specially explore it’s Jewish culture and society, the Alsatian Museum in Strasbourg is a good place to start this exploration. Coming back to Blum his  father, Abraham Blum, was born in Westhoffen, a small village near Strasbourg, while his mother hailed from Ribeauvillé in the Haut-Rhin département, she was indeed a proud Jew kept kosher, lit sabbath candles, and made sure her sons said their prayers in Hebrew every night. Léon and his brothers all celebrated their bar mitzvahs, and the family gathered every year for Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover. Alsatian Jews continued to practice their religion, to intermarry, and to keep kosher while rapidly assimilating.  

It was near the Boulevard Sébastopol not far from the Tour Saint-Jacques in the heart of this neighbourhood in Paris that the Blum family settled, in which thousands of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe eventually made their homes. Léon’s birthplace was rather proletariat in it’s nature of settlement, located on the Rue Saint-Denis, a major artery in this working-class and merchant quarter, far from the luxurious homes on the Plaine Monceau inhabited by the better-established and more assimilated Jewish bourgeoisie. Léon Blum began his education in various neighbourhood schools before entering the Lycée Charlemagne in the heart of the Pletzl, far from the capital’s noble lycées such as Condorcet and Janson de Sailly, where the Jewish bourgeoisie sent its children. His life seemed mapped out in advance, with ambitions similar to those of other Jewish merchants’ soffspring. But he excelled in school to an extent that he was admitted to Henri IV, the lycée favoured by the intellectual elite. This marked a crucial turning point in his life, opening the door to the republican meritocracy. 

Jewishness of Léon Blum

Léon Blum. Image Cedits: Wikimedia Commons.

Léon Blum once wrote, “I was born to live in a bright, sunny country under a clear blue sky. This shows how much of my Semite blood has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race”.

Léon Blum was a proud Jew when young he held to tradition enough that he took kosher food with him to his lycée where of course he was part of the ethnic minority being Jewish. In his diary for April 20, 1892, the lycée’s proctor where he was studying wrote that “Blum brought unleavened bread and meat prepared according to Jewish rites,” a rare indication that young Léon kept faith with his Jewish identity even in the very public space of the lvcée. Proof of his Jewishness can also be seen in his three marriages to Jewish women, the first of which was formally celebrated in the Grand Synagogue of Paris on the Rue de la Victoire, where Captain Dreyfus’s marriage had been celebrated a short time before. Leon Blum was committed to the ideology of Zionism, and in his political career encouraged France to vote in favour of the establishment of the State of Israel and was instrumental in preventing the British from stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the Land of Israel.

Léon Blum deported by the Nazis. Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1937, Blum was forced to resign, following France’s defeat by the Nazis. He was tried by the Vichy Government as a war criminal. His brilliant show at the trial embarrassed the French and German Governments. The trial was stopped and Blum was sent to a Concentration Camp. He was released by the U.S. Forces in 1945. 

André Gide mentioned in his diary specifically about what Léon Blum believed about his people the Jews “ Thinking again tonight about Blum, to whom I cannot deny the qualities of nobility, generosity, and chivalry, although these words cannot be applied to him without distorting their true meaning, it seemed to me that his insistence on putting Jews search forever in the limelight, on focusing primarily on them, and his predisposition to see in them talent and even genius, stems first of all from the fact that a Jew is particularly sensitive to Jewish qualities, and above all from the fact that Blum believes the Jewish race to be superior, as though destined to dominate after having been dominated for so long, and that it is his duty to work for the triumph of his race, to assist it with all his might. In the rise of this race he no doubt sees the solution to many social and economic problems…Why speak of flaws? For me it is enough that the qualities of the Jewish race are not French qualities. He thinks that the Jews’ time will come. . .. He likes to give himself an air of importance. … He speaks to you only as your protector. At a dress rehearsal, in the corridors of a theater where he runs into you by chance, he puts his arm around your waist or neck or shoulders and even if you haven’t seen him for a year makes you believe that you had last met only the day before and that he has no closer friend than you.”

Zionism of Léon Blum

Léon Blum. Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

As per June Edmunds from the London School of Economics in his thesis “The Left’s Views on Israel: From the establishment of the Jewish state to the intifada” Léon Blum was actively involved in the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state. In 1956 France allied itself with Israel in the war against Egypt under Guy Mollet’s socialist government. In 1967 the SFIO French Section of the Workers’ International Section or Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO) in French, remained one of Israel’s strongest supporters. In the 1940s, the SFIO was strongly committed to Zionist goals, supporting the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Léon Blum, head of the 1936-38 Popular Front government and the party’s leader until 1946, was generally on good terms with the British Labour leadership. However, Blum’s sympathy for Zionism put him at odds with Britain’s postwar government. He regarded Bevin’s Palestine policy as one of appeasement to ‘pan-Arab fanaticism’ and compared Arab nationalism with Spanish fascism.  The SFIO leadership condemned Britain’s restrictions on Jewish immigration as morally corrupt and explained the rise of Jewish terrorism in the activities of Irgun and the Stern Gang as a direct consequence of British policy. In May 1948 Blum urged immediate recognition of the new state and opposed the UN’s decision to put Jerusalem under international control. Under the leadership of Guy Mollet, Blum’s successor, the party welcomed the establishment of the Jewish state as an ‘historic moment’ and as a symbol of the world’s recognition of the Jews’ right to live as a nation and not a minority. Dr. Chaim Weizmann was at last able to bring into the fold the wealthy American Jews of German origin and with them some of the richest Jews of France, England and even Germany. Among those who lent their names to the Jewish Agency were Léon Blum and Albert Einstein.

Leon Blum memorial in kibbutz kfar blum, Israel. Image Credits: Avishai Teicher via Wikimedia Commons.

A manifestation of respect that Jews have had for Léon Blum’s Zionism can still be seen in Israel not far from the Jordan River, in a valley in Upper Galilee at the foot of snow-covered Mount Hermon, the traveler discovers a place that is like something out of a dream: quiet, lush, with neat little houses and cultivated fields as far as the eye can see and a high-tech factory that manufactures batteries for computers. Among the rocks, wreathed in flowers, is a surprising statue of Léon Blum. An inscription in Hebrew reads: “Léon Blum, head of the French government in 1936-1937.” The site chosen for the Kfar Blum kibbutz, built in Blum’s honor in November 1943 by a group of immigrants from Britain, the United States, Canada, and the Baltic states, was once a region of uncultivated marshland infested with malaria and devoid of roads.’ It is today a vital symbol of the French presence in Israel. The initiative for the project came from the American Federation of Labor. In 1937, the union, which backed the Balfour Declaration, sent a delegation to Palestine.

On the way it stopped in France and met with Léon Blum, who, “as a working-class leader, head of state, and Jew, repeatedly assured us of his active interest in the efforts of Jews to rebuild a national homeland. . .. That is why we sought to build an agricultural colony that would bear the name of Léon Blum.” From Paris, Blum sent an emotional message: As a Frenchman, as a socialist and as a Jew, I feel proud at the thought that American citizens, American workers, should wish to connect my name with the establishment of an institution on the soil of Palestine, with the creation of a colony of labor in the Jewish national Home where workers will be free, where the great principles of tolerance and equity, proclaimed to the world a century and a half ago by your young Republic and our Revolution will become an enduring reality. . . . May tonight’s festive occasion inspire with faith and courage the millions of Jews who today suffer, on the soil of their homeland as well as throughout the diaspora, from persecution, cruelty and oppression.”

The Struggle of Blum and Victory of Zionism

Xavier Vallat, a prominent conservative deputy who later became Vichy’s first Commissioner General for Jewish Affairs, excoriated Blum on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies in explicitly antisemitic terms. In June 1936 Vallat explained to his colleagues in the Chamber why he could not support Blum’s cabinet. Turning directly to Blum, Vallat declared: “There’s another reason that prevents me from voting in favour of the ministry of M. Blum: that’s M. Blum himself. Your ascendance to power is incontestably a historic date. For the first time this old Gallo-Roman country will be governed by a Jew.” When sharply reprimanded by Edouard Herriot, the president of the Chamber, and ordered to retract his statement, Vallat not only refused, but went on to declare that Jews could never be truly French. The Action française, a newspaper, advocated “that Blum be guillotined,” 

It was not easy for Léon Blum to be the first Jew and the first socialist to become premier of France. He struggled a lot all through his life and indeed became an inspiration for several Jews to emulate, the Left Wing that today hates the nation state of Israel and questions it’s right to exist should learn a thing or two from Léon Blum a Socialist Zionist. If the Left keeps vituperating against Israel like they do, it may appear that they are just anti-Semites masquerading as heroes of the proletariat, using an ideology to fulfil their agenda of fighting the Jewish people. 

About the Author
Mr. Arunansh B. Goswami is a lawyer by profession in New Delhi India, also a historian by training. He has studied history at the historical and prestigious St. Stephen’s College in Delhi India, he has also read law at prestigious, Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi ( India ) which has given one of the highest number of Judges to Indian Supreme Court. He has worked as a research consultant with Union Minister of Steel and Civil Aviation of India, Mr. J. M. Scindia and Mrs. Priyadarshini Raje. Scindia titular Queen of the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior in India. Mr. Goswami has studied Israeli and Jewish History deeply and travelled extensively in Israel, and Uzbekistan to explore and research about sites associated with Jewish Prophets.
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