In 1843, Bruno Bauer introduced a term that had been implicit for decades, perhaps even spanning all of human history. This term emerged from his book, The Jewish Question.
Since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Jews have been exiled throughout the world, often relegated to second-class citizenship or worse. Even during the so-called “golden age of Jewry” in Spain, Jews were legally designated as dhimis, effectively second-class citizens, with rules dictating their conduct and the construction of their places of worship. They faced frequent persecution and forced conversions, culminating in their exile by the Christians in 1492.
Throughout this era of exile, Jews intimately encountered pogroms, blood libels, ghettoized communities, and a pervasive lack of rights. Whether under the rule of Muslims or Christians, Jews lived in fear and danger.
This all changed when progressive ideas and liberal ideology emerged from France and England in the 18th Century. The world began to proclaim “the rights of man,” asserting that all individuals possessed unalienable, natural rights. Finally, Jews were slowly emancipated from the ghetto and entered the public sphere for the first time in thousands of years.
This led to the Jewish question – what is to be done with the Jews? A question never asked of any other people so explicitly.
A “question” very clearly implies a “problem,” mainly the existence of a Jewish population living in a foreign state. Jews didn’t conform to the ways of their neighbors. Whether in Spain, Morocco, Yemen, France, Germany, Poland, or Russia, Jews had a distinct way of life to which they remained steadfastly committed – one that often ran counter to the social and political movements of the time. This led to more massacres, pogroms, and a general wave of antisemitism that spread quickly across Europe.
In 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published, baselessly asserting a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. Although no longer in the ghetto, it was clear that the majority of Europe silently despised the Jews. It was this silent hatred of the majority that Hitler credited for his own development of antisemitism. As early as 1919, in a letter to Adolph Gemlich, Hitler wrote that “rational antisemitism… must pursue a systematic, legal campaign against the Jews, by revocation of the special privileges they enjoy in contrast to other foreigners living among us. But the final objective must be the complete removal of the Jew.” Similarly, in Mein Kampf, Hitler writes that the Jew “tries to systematically lower the racial level by continuous poisoning of individuals.”
Extermination was Hitler’s “final solution,” notoriously known by another name – the Holocaust.
Following the murder of six million Jews, where were they to turn? The United States had strict quotas on Jewish immigration. Survivors could not possibly return to their homes in Europe, many of which had been taken by non-Jewish citizens. Country after country closed their doors to refugees. It appeared that there was only one refuge for Jews, a place where persecution would not find them, where they could practice their faith without fear, a place known to their ancestors – the land of Israel. The name ‘Israel’ was given to their forefather, Jacob, by God after he too overcame adversity and pain. It symbolized a triumphant Jewish people, a legacy not known for 2,000 years, one that had once thrived as a great and wise nation in the land of Israel under the Davidic dynasty.
And so, a revised final solution was had – Jews living in their own land.
Of course, all people deserve equality and the right to self-determination. But that philosophy has somehow become a contorted cry for Israel’s extermination “from the river to the sea.” Instead, the world should be calling for Hamas to surrender. If not for the actions of Hamas, there would be no need for strict border checkpoints and safety concerns. The attack on Israelis on October 7th shows exactly why such precautions were necessary. We do not cling to Israel because we want to exterminate the Palestinian population; we cling to our land specifically to avoid the extermination of the Jewish people. Without a place to call home, Jews are harassed on the street, on the subway, in their universities and in their communities.
In 1926, following the displacement of Jews in the post-WWI era, Joseph Roth wrote in his book The Wandering Jews: “We do not realize that our whole life has become a quarantine, and that all our countries have become barracks and concentration camps, admittedly with all the modern conveniences.” Without Israel, Jews face dire circumstances. Without Israel, the only solution the world has to the Jewish question is murder.