Among the sundry isms and ideologies that proliferated over the last 150 years, Zionism was a dark horse, a long shot in the steady race to realization. While the 20th century periodically seemed to confirm Communism in its Bolshevist and Maoist manifestations and witnessed socialist inroads against unbridled capitalism, it was Zionism that achieved its fundamental aim and that endures into the 21st century and counting.
To be sure, there were several Zionisms, some contrary, even contradictory, to one another, including: the religious Zionism of Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, Judah Alkalai, Samuel Mohilever, Isaac Rülf, Isaac Jacob Reines, Moses Kalfon HaKohen, Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, and Meir Bar-Ilan; the political Zionism of Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau; the labor Zionism of Aaron David Gordon; the socialist Zionism of Moses Hess, Nahman Syrkin, Ber Borochov, Berl Katznelson, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and Golda Meir; the spiritual/cultural Zionism of Asher Tzvi Ginzberg, Tzvi Shimshi, and Hayyim Nahman Bialik; and the revisionist Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menahem Begin. Naturally, not all variations succeeded, and not all those that succeeded endured. Despite the riven nature of the revolution and the antipodal personalities ushering it onward, the discrete streams of Zionism coalesced like fingers of a single hand so that the movement as a whole would accomplish its paramount purpose, fulfilled when the State of Israel was declared in 1948.
Just how exactly did such a motley crew alter the course of Jewish history, and are there timeless lessons to be gleaned from their myriad exploits? Examining the Zionists’ actions, connections, and patterns yields, among others, the following 10 principles that abet collective political success:
- Lay the Groundwork
The Sarajevo-born, Jerusalem-raised Judah Alkalai initiated widespread promotion of the Zionist idea in practical terms. By publishing the proto-Zionist tracts Shalom Yerushalayim (The Peace of Jerusalem) and Minhat Yehudah (Judah’s Offering), as well as 18 pamphlets including “Goral L’Adonai” (“A Lot for the Lord”), “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear, O Israel”), and “Mevasser Tov” (“Harbinger of Good Tidings”), he openly exhorted Jewish repatriation to the national homeland and the concretization of devotion through proactive action and material assistance.
The writings of his slightly older contemporary, Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, especially his proto-Zionist treatise Drishat Tzion (Seeking Zion), underpinned the pioneering Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movement, and proved profoundly influential for the traditionally-raised Moses Hess, who incorporated excerpts therefrom in his Rome and Jerusalem: A Study in Jewish Nationalism (1862).
Both Kalischer and Alkalai strongly supported Hayyim Lurie’s incunabular efforts in the cause of restoration to the Land of Israel that the latter first undertook in Germany from 1860–1861. Kalischer also established the important precedent of soliciting wealthy Jewish patrons and cultivating their interests: he was discussing Zionism with Jewish philanthropist Amschel Mayer Rothschild as early as 1836, half a century before Samuel Mohilever met with Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the 1880s or Theodor Herzl consulted Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1895.
In 1882, German district rabbi Isaac Rülf was stimulated by Polish-Jewish doctor Judah Leib Pinsker’s Auto-Emancipation: A Call to His Brethren from a Russian Jew, yet recognized that it did not go far enough in specifying the Land of Israel as the locus of Jewish nationalism and Hebrew as the Jewish national language. As a corrective, he indited his masterwork Aruhat Bat Ami (1883), a political Zionist tract that Pinsker soon conceded complemented his own composition.
In 1919, leading Tunisian rabbi Moses Kalfon HaKohen cofounded the Ateret Zion movement that promoted repatriation to the ancestral homeland and support for institutions in the collective Jewish community (yishuv) in the Land of Israel. From his home on the Mediterranean island of Djerba, he maintained an ongoing correspondence with the Zionist movement’s global leaders. Among his many written works was Ge’ulat Mosheh (The Redemption of Moses), a detailed essay adumbrating the structure of the future Jewish state.
- Bridge the Religious Divide
As part and parcel of the historic act of national restoration, Judah Alkalai advocated the restitution of the Great Sanhedrin as a parliament and international Jewish body, which prompted the creation of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. More surprisingly, the early socialist and eventual Freemason Moses Hess likewise believed in a reconstituted Great Sanhedrin to contemporize halakhah (whose moderate reform was also advocated by the erstwhile Talmudist Moses Leib Lilienblum).
Effectively a joint religious-secular movement codirected by Lithuanian rabbi Samuel Mohilever and Judah Leib Pinsker, Hibbat Zion was an important forerunner of the Zionist Organization. Its members, the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion), were similarly of mixed religious-secular backgrounds.
With the advent of Hungarian-Jewish journalist-turned-law clerk Theodor Herzl, Rabbi Rülf became one of the former’s chief admirers and defended Munich as a proposed site of the First Zionist Congress against the criticisms of German anti-Zionist rabbis. He also became active within the Zionist Organization and German Zionist Federation, and in 1898 at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel (Switzerland), Rülf introduced Herzl. Previously, Rülf had mentored David Wolffsohn in Memel (Klaipėda, Lithuania), where the latter was a young draft-dodger evading the Czarist army. Wolffsohn went on to become one of three triumvirs (along with Max Nordau and Otto Warburg) who led the Zionist Organization in the wake of the exhausted Herzl’s early decease.
Reaching beyond intrareligious denominational differences, Hebrew language champion Peretz Smolenskin engaged the Christian Zionist and English politician Laurence Oliphant to secure support for Zionism. Likewise, Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow solicited support from British leaders Mark Sykes, Alfred Balfour, David Lloyd George, and George Curzon; French statesmen François Georges-Picot, Jules Cambon, Stephen Pichon, and Alexandre Ribot; Pope Benedict XV; the governments of Italy, Japan, China, and Siam (Thailand); and even Emir Faisal of Hejaz (later king of Syria and Iraq), who at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 gave to American-Jewish jurist Felix Frankfurter a letter affirming Arab support of Zionism and belief in Jewish-Arab interdependence, averring that the Arabs “look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement” and “will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.”
- Partner to Prosper
From 1883, Pinsker worked on behalf of the cause of Jewish nationalism with onetime Talmudic scholar (later branded a freethinker) Lilienblum, who convinced him of the necessity of proceeding even without the help of western Jewry.
Building on the linguistic-revivalist contribution of Smolenskin, Belarussian-Jewish lexicographer Eliezer Ben-Yehudah partnered with fellow Hebraist Yehiel Mikhael Pines in 1882 to found the Tehiyyat Yisrael Society, whose purpose was to restore Hebrew as a spoken language. In 1886, Pines briefly edited HaTzvi, Ben-Yehudah’s Hebrew newspaper.
Mordecai Gimpel Jaffe, chief rabbi of Ruzhany (Ružany, Belarus), supported both Kalischer’s Hevrat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (Society for Jewish Settlement in the Land of Israel) and the Hibbat Zion movement, helping his rabbinical colleague Samuel Mohilever in the 1880s to recruit Russian-Jewish farmers for the new Rothschild-sponsored agricultural settlement of Ekron in the ancestral homeland.
In 1887, University of Berlin student Leo Motzkin founded the Russian-Jewish Scientific Society, whose members were student supporters of Hibbat Zion and included future Zionist leaders Chaim Weizmann, Shmaryahu Levin, and Nahman Syrkin.
In her capacity as a midwife, Olga Belkind-Hankin often interacted with Arab residents of Jaffa, and in so doing learned of land for sale to the south of the city. In 1890, her husband Yehoshua, a future procurer for the Israel Land Development Company who would earn the epithet “Redeemer of the Valley”, purchased the land, on which the city of Rehovot was soon established.
In 1892/1893, German-Jewish lawyer Max Bodenheimer cofounded with his close friend and successful timber merchant David Wolffsohn the National-Jüdischer Klub Zion Köln (National-Jewish Club Zion of Cologne), renamed the National-Jüdische Vereinigung (National-Jewish Association) in 1894, a Hibbat Zion branch that eventuated as the German Zionist Federation.
In 1909, German-Jewish botanist Otto Warburg helped establish the Atlit experimental agricultural station under the direction of famed agronomist and future NILI spy network founder Aaron Aaronsohn.
In 1910, British-Jewish editor Jacob de Haas became acquainted with American-Jewish jurist Louis Brandeis, stirring the latter’s Zionist interests and urging him to assume the leadership of the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ, later the Zionist Organization of America). In 1914, once Brandeis became chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs (Zionist Provisional Emergency Committee), De Haas became head of its New England office. In 1916, he returned to New York City and became executive secretary of the Committee. From 1918–1921, he headed the Zionist Organization of America during the honorary presidency of Brandeis, and with the latter visited the Land of Israel in 1919 and 1924.
In 1914, Polish-Jewish journalist Nahum Sokolow moved to London, England and worked closely with Chaim Weizmann, with whom he was instrumental in negotiations with the British government that culminated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
At the outset of WWI, Moscow newspaper correspondent Ze’ev Jabotinsky traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, where among the amassed Jewish deportees from the Land of Israel, including Russian-Jewish war hero Joseph Trumpeldor, he posited the notion of a Jewish Legion to liberate the Jewish homeland from Ottoman rule. From 1915–1916, while Trumpeldor joined British colonel John Henry Patterson in commanding the Zion Mule Corps in the Gallipoli (Turkey) campaign, Jabotinsky tirelessly sought support in Europe and Russia for his vision. In 1917, the Jewish Legion became a reality with 120 Zion Mule Corps veterans as its nucleus, and the battalion underwent further training in Egypt in 1918. The next year, Jabotinsky and the Jewish Legion, designated as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers then combined with the 39th and 40th battalions into the First Judean Regiment, were transferred and positioned first in Samaria then in the Jordan Valley, where they captured the Umm Shart ford from Ottoman forces.
From 1916–1919, Stephen Wise, Louis Brandeis, Jacob de Haas, Nahman Syrkin, and others founded the American Jewish Congress (AJC), conceived of as more vocal and public in its activities than the established American Jewish Committee, founded a decade earlier by Reform rabbi Judah Magnes and others in 1906.
In 1921, Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook cofounded with fellow rabbi Judah Leib (Fishman) Maimon the office of the chief rabbinate, and became the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of the Land of Israel.
Disillusioned with the passive, complacent attitude of the assimilated majority of German Jewry in the early years of the Holocaust, intrepid German Jewess Recha Freier partnered with Rebecca Sieff (founder of the Federation of Women Zionists of Great Britain and Ireland’s Women’s Appeal Committee of the Central British Fund for German Jewry) in England and Henrietta Szold (founder of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America) in Jerusalem in advancing Youth Aliyah (Jugend-Aliyah), an organization for the resettlement and agricultural training of Jewish youth in the Land of Israel.
- Decipher the Scrawl on the Wall
Following the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Herzl wrote in his diary: “At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”
Rabbi Rülf took great interest in the plight of eastern European Jewry. He twice toured Jewish communities in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, and undertook massive relief efforts to alleviate Jewish suffering from famine and pogroms, for which he earned the epithet “Doktor Hülf” (“Dr. Help”). Late in life, as the 20th century dawned, he cautioned European Jewry against the threat of German anti-Semitism, which even then was evident to the lucid.
Similarly, Hungarian-Jewish journalist Max Nordau predicted the advancing disaster from afar. In 1911, he foresaw the destruction of 6 million Jews in eastern Europe and the Russian Empire, and urged political Zionism as the sole solution to avert catastrophe. In 1920, he touted the notion of evacuating 600,000 Jews from Europe to the Land of Israel, but the idea fell short of persuading his unimaginative peers, who deemed it unrealistic. Ze’ev Jabotinsky later named his plan to transfer Jewish masses to the ancestral homeland “The Max Nordau Plan”.
In 1933, Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold directed from Jerusalem the local bureau of the Youth Aliyah agency established in Europe by Recha Freier to rescue Jewish youth from Nazi Germany and bring them to the Land of Israel, saving 22,000 Jews from the death camps and overseeing their new accommodations; by 1948, the agency had cared for 30,000 children.
- Simultaneously Explore Multiple Paths to a Singular Destination
Ukrainian-Jewish intellectual Asher Ginzberg (pseudonym Ahad HaAm) famously opposed Herzl’s political Zionism, offering instead his spiritual-cultural alternative in the belief that the Jews’ moral and spiritual rebirth would necessarily precede statehood, which could only be the outcome of their vibrant spirituality. His attitude and outlook were motivated by the threat of assimilation even more than the threat of anti-Semitism. Although Ginzberg’s sequence proved woefully out of sync with the times, so too did Herzl’s obsequious and overcautious approach prove inadequate on its own.
Ultimately, it would be Chaim Weizmann’s heuristic method of synthetic Zionism, combining the political with the practical, that from 1907 became the modus operandi of the Zionist movement since it wisely comprised an all-of-the-above approach and concentrated on whichever educed the desiderata. This was not merely common sense, but the technique of a scientific mind that soon discovered the means of producing synthetic acetone, necessary to plasticize the propellant cordite (smokeless powder) by extracting the solvent from maize, thereby rescuing at a critical juncture during WWI the British munitions industry.
- Every Country Needs a Culture
Linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehudah emulated the princely sage Judah HaNasi when he and his household exclusively spoke Hebrew; improbably, his example rapidly ramified throughout the yishuv.
In 1905, Otto Warburg founded the now famous Bezalel School of Arts in Jerusalem and appointed renowned Jewish sculptor Boris Schatz as its director.
Journalist-turned diplomat Nahum Sokolow retitled Herzl’s novel Altneuland (1902) as Tel Aviv in Hebrew, inspiring the city’s name in 1909. Sokolow also named the Keren HaYesod (United Israel Appeal) and termed Zionist public relations hasbarah.
The foremost Jewish poet of his epoch, Bialik formed a lifelong association with Hebrew journalist Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki, with whom he founded (along with Shmaryahu Levin) in Tel Aviv the Dvir publishing house in 1921.
Rahel Katznelson was inspired to make aliyah by Yosef Hayyim Brenner’s short story “MiKan U’MiKan” (“From Here and There”, 1912); serendipitously, decades later she won the Brenner Prize for literature in 1946.
Attempting to outdo Moses Mendelssohn’s Bi’ur (1780-1783), Austrian-Jewish utopian socialist Martin Buber translated the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) into German with his close friend, theologian and philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, completing the oeuvre alone after the latter’s death in 1929.
In 1958, heroine Recha Freier embarked on her second career and founded the Israel Composers’ Fund to support original musical compositions. In 1961, she indited a children’s book, Let the Children Come: The Early History of Youth Aliyah. She also composed librettos for two oratorios, Masada and Yerushalayim. In 1966, she founded the Testimonium Scheme to record in words and music seminal events in Jewish history; in 1968, the Testimonium debuted Jerusalem: A Pageant of Three Thousand Years of History at David’s Citadel in the Old City of Jerusalem.
- Include and Empower Women
When Belarussian Jewess Olga Belkind moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, she lived with two of her siblings in an apartment that hosted members of the Hibbat Zion movement. Her siblings Israel and Fania were founders of the BILU (an acronym of the biblical verse “Beit Ya’akov Lekhu V’Nelkhah”) agricultural pioneering movement, and Olga attended their meetings as well as those of Hibbat Zion. She soon immigrated to the Land of Israel, where she engaged in the critical service of midwifery and helped her husband Yehoshua purchase tracts of land for the burgeoning yishuv.
In 1908, Rahel Yanait, daughter of a Hasid, immigrated to the Land of Israel, where she cofounded and became a teacher at the Hebrew secondary school in Jerusalem’s Bukharan quarter (Gymnasia Rehaviah), the second modern high school in the country. In 1909, she cofounded (with Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, David Ben-Gurion, Manya Shochat, Israel Shochat, and Alexander Zaïd) the HaShomer self-defense association that guarded Jewish agricultural communities. During WWI she specialized at the Atlit experimental agricultural station under the direction of Aaron Aaronsohn, recruited volunteers for the British army, coordinated communications between HaShomer and the NILI espionage network, and was a Haganah leader in Jerusalem. She also became a leader of the Women Workers’ Movement (T’nuat HaPo’alot). Thereafter she helped establish the Ahdut HaAvodah labor party, the Zionist Pioneer Women of America and Canada (Na’amat), and the Ein Kerem agricultural youth village. In 1952, as first lady of the State of Israel, she assisted her husband Yitzhak Ben-Zvi in his official duties and ensured the presidential residence became a welcoming place for all Israelis. She also helped renew Jewish residency in the ancient Galilean town of Peki’in.
In 1909, Belarussian Jewess Hannah Maisel-Shohat immigrated to the Land of Israel, where she began working on a Lower Galilean farm near Sejera (the moshav Ilaniyah), the first socialist commune in the yishuv. In 1911, she founded Havat HaAlamot, a women’s agricultural training program at Kibbutz Kinneret on the shores of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee); the program had 14 students, including famous poetess Rahel Bluwstein, and lasted until 1917. In 1921, she and her husband Eliezer Shohat helped found the first moshav, Nahalal. She later established the WIZO’s School for Home Economics in Tel Aviv, helped establish women’s farms (Mishkei HaPo’alot) in Petah Tikvah and Nahalat Yehudah, and founded and managed for 34 years the women’s agricultural school in Nahalal.
After becoming secretary of the FAZ, American-born Henrietta Szold formed the Hadassah chapter of the Daughters of Zion, helped dispatch two nurses to serve residents in the ancestral homeland, then traversed America to found new Daughters of Zion chapters. In 1914, the group formally changed its name to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Even before moving to Jerusalem, she organized the American Zionist Medical Unit with the help of the ZOA and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, sending doctors, nurses, dentists, medical engineers, administrators, sanitary workers, equipment, and supplies to the Land of Israel, where she also founded the Nurses’ Training School. After her move, she fundraised for and reorganized the Hadassah Medical Organization, and founded and self-funded with $70,000 from her own life savings the child welfare bureau L’Ma’an HaYeled, posthumously renamed Mossad Szold. Headquartered in New York City, Hadassah is today the largest Jewish organization in America, with 330,000 members, associates, and supporters. Hadassah Medical Center is today the most advanced medical system in the Middle East.
In 1914, Belarussian Jewess Rahel Katznelson cofounded the Women Workers’ Movement in Kibbutz Merhavyah. She cofounded and became cultural coordinator of the Ahdut HaAvodah labor party, was appointed cultural coordinator of the trade union Histadrut (General Federation of Jewish Labor), and later joined its Women Workers’ Council (Mo’etzet HaPo’alot). In 1933, she became active with the Zionist Pioneer Women of America and Canada, counterpart of the Women Workers’ Council. In 1963, as first lady of the State of Israel, she participated in the various study circles that convened in the presidential residence. She used her role to affirm ties between the state and international women’s organizations, to bolster organizations for persons with disabilities, and to support artists and authors.
As the daughter of Michael Marks, cofounder of Marks and Spencer, Rebecca Sieff might well have ventured into commerce. In 1918, she became president of the FWZ. Two years later, she cofounded (with Vera Weizmann, Hannah Maisel-Shohat, and others) the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO). In 1924, she became president of the WIZO and served for 42 years. A decade later, she and her husband Israel inaugurated the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot in memory of their deceased son (the institution was renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1949). In the postwar era, she was an active advocate on behalf of Holocaust survivors and against British occupation of the Land of Israel.
In 1919, Russian Jewess Vera (Chatzman) Weizmann traveled with Rebecca Sieff to investigate directly the situation of the yishuv, a trip she later recalled as “the beginning of my own journey back to my own people.” The following year, she cofounded and cochaired the WIZO, a position in which she served for 20 years. Vera also became president of Jewish Child’s Day, of the Israel and British Commonwealth Association, and of the Israel and Sweden Association, and during WWII she chaired Youth Aliyah. In 1949, as the initial first lady of the State of Israel, she volunteered to help rehabilitate the injured in Israel’s War of Independence and fundraised to establish Tel HaShomer Hospital. After her husband Chaim died, she continued devoting herself to social work and became president of the Israeli emergency response service Magen David Adom and headed the Disabled Soldiers Fund. She also fundraised on behalf of Israel Bonds and the Weizmann Institute.
The indefatigable Ada (Fishman) Maimon, sister of rabbi and Knesset member Judah Leib, became a leader of the Women Workers’ Movement. In 1920, she was elected to the municipal council of the Jewish residents of Jaffa (the first woman elected to any municipality in the country). The next year, at Givat HaMoreh in the Jezreel Valley, she founded the Women Workers’ Council and became its secretary-general for five years. She established the Ayanot Agricultural Secondary School for Girls, became head of the Histadrut’s immigration department, was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Mapai (Mifleget Po’alei Eretz Yisrael) labor party, and served on the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. As an MK she spearheaded the Age of Marriage Law, defining the marriageable age as 17, and helped pass a law proscribing bigamy.
Golda Meir helped organize illicit Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel in defiance of the callous British White Paper. In 1948, she traveled on an emergency fundraising mission to America, where in one month she raised $50 million from American Jewry. She was elected to the Knesset, in which she served for 25 years, and became minister of labor and national insurance. In 1969, she became prime minister of the State of Israel for five years. She was Israel’s fourth prime minister and the world’s third female prime minister in the modern era.
- Acknowledge Errors and Alter Course
Pinsker, the first truly secular Zionist leader, originally conceived of Jewish nationalism in generic terms; it took his partnership with Lilienblum, and especially his association with Lilienblum’s colleague Tzvi Hermann Schapira, a Russian-Jewish mathematician, to convince him that Jewish nationalism necessarily meant none other than Zionism.
Lilienblum veered from his Talmudic background to emerge as a leader of the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement, but the pogroms of 1881 in the Russian Empire persuaded him to eschew such diasporic perils, and he reinvented himself anew as a Hibbat Zion leader.
The infamous Dreyfus Affair in fin-de-siècle France forced both Herzl, who believed assimilation would remedy anti-Semitism, and French-Jewish writer Bernard Lazare, who thought socialism the antidote, to radically reorient their thinking. Both turned to Zionism, and Lazare’s writings helped overturn the unjust verdict against hapless Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.
In 1899, pistol-toting Belarussian Jewess and Marxist activist Manya Shochat was arrested for subversive revolutionary activities. Two years later, she helped establish the Jewish Independent Labor Party, a licit trade union which lasted two years. But in 1903, in the wake of the Kishinev (Chişinău, Moldova) pogroms, she decided that defending Jewry took priority over leading a social revolution. Lured by her brother Nahum (founder of the Shemen oil and soap company), she immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1907. Similarly, Ukrainian-Jewish autodidact Ber Borochov was heavily influenced by the voguish revolutionary socialism of his era, but his experiences with anti-Semitism animated his Zionist mindset and he soon became active among socialist Zionists led by Nahman Syrkin. He would go on to intellectually fuse Marxism and Zionism, proving theoretically that class struggle and nationalism were compatible.
As a young German Jew growing up in America, Horace Meyer Kallen, son of a rabbi and Hebrew scholar, seriously considered shirking his Jewish identity entirely and assimilating into the gentile majority. By the age of 20, however, the embers of his Jewish pride were stoked by Zionism, which brought him back from the brink. He became a university professor and went on to be proudly and actively involved with the American Jewish Congress, the American Association for Jewish Education, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and the Institute of Jewish Affairs.
During WWI, Judah Magnes became a prominent pacifist, which put him squarely at odds with most Zionists, who sided with the Allies. During WWII, he astutely modified his pacifist stance and urged war against Nazi Germany.
In 1925, pragmatic Zionist and sociologist Arthur Ruppin cofounded and headed Brit Shalom, an intellectual movement advocating a binational state of Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel. In 1929, however, brutal Arab riots prompted him to abjure his support of Brit Shalom and instead insist on a single Jewish state.
- Beware the Dark Side of Revolution
Global political movements are rarely without missteps and blemishes, and historically have had a grim tendency during their heady years to cannibalize their own. Zionism, regrettably, was no exception. Amid the exigencies of imperial occupation and wartime, serious ethical lapses–few though they were overall–inarguably occurred.
In 1917, NILI espionage operative Yosef Lishansky sought refuge from the ruling Ottoman Turks with former colleagues in HaShomer who had previously rejected his group membership, and who instead now came to the expedient conclusion that the welfare of the yishuv demanded his death. HaShomer members attempted to assassinate Lishansky but merely injured him, and he managed to flee. He headed toward Egypt but was apprehended en route and sentenced to death by the Ottoman authorities in Damascus, Syria. Betrayed by his brethren, he was hanged until dead before the year was out.
Jacob Israël de Haan, an openly homosexual Dutch-Jewish poet who engaged in imprudent anti-Zionist politicking and tried to cooperate with Arab nationalists, was assassinated on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem by Haganah member Avraham Tehomi in 1924.
In 1933, Hayyim Arlosoroff, a youthful and bright acolyte of Weizmann, organized a luncheon at the King David Hotel with Jewish Agency leaders and Arab sheikhs from Transjordan to foster cooperation, and with the advent of Hitler devoted himself to coordinating mass Jewish emigration from Germany and transferring Jewish assets and property to the Land of Israel, which entailed visiting and concluding the controversial HaAvarah (Transfer) Agreement with Nazi Germany. Such overtures rankled disapproving zealots. Shortly thereafter, Hayyim was assassinated by unknown assailants while strolling the beach in Tel Aviv with his wife Sima. Some 100,000 mourners attended his funeral. From 1933–1934, a murder trial was conducted and two low-level revisionist Zionists, Avraham Stavsky and Ze’evi Rosenblatt, were arrested and identified by Hayyim’s widow. Both men adamantly denied involvement; only Stavsky was convicted of murder, though he was later exonerated by the Supreme Court due to lack of evidence. A young Arab twice confessed to the murder but twice recanted, claiming Stavsky and Rosenblatt had bribed him to confess. On the other hand, Ashkenazic chief rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook defended Stavsky’s innocence and decried the affair as an intracommunal blood libel. The truth of the matter remains dubious.
- Accomplished Facts Matter
A people like the Jews—numerically small, scattered and dispersed—naturally sought the approval and assistance of powerful allies to ensure their national survival. Conducting affairs in a politically-endorsed and internationally-sanctioned fashion was deemed ineluctably necessary, especially to the Zionist movement’s legalistic bellwether Herzl and his closest acolytes.
Crucially, however, other leading Zionists like Weizmann understood that reality preceded, and took precedence over, recognition: “A state cannot be created by decree, but only by the forces of the people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country, it would be a gift of little worth, but, if the Jewish people will go and build [the Land of Israel], the Jewish state will become a reality.”
The stalwart Ben-Gurion echoed the sentiment thusly: “A country is acquired by a people only through the pain of labor and creation, construction efforts and settlement. The Hebrew people itself must turn this right into a living and existing fact”.
Or as the mystical prophet of toil, Aaron David Gordon, had it: “Underneath the ruins there still burns an orphaned, whispering ember…and the air of the land blows upon it to bring it back to life. And should you…create for yourself a new life here, that ember will return to life and become once again a raging flame. And you will live once again, and your people and your land will live.”
All of the aforementioned founding fathers and mothers understood instinctively, as increasingly few do today, that the State of Israel would not be revivified merely as a refuge from European or Arab pogroms or as an expiation for the Holocaust, but as the sovereign polity of an aboriginal Middle Eastern people at long last restored to their ancestral homeland. National restoration—Zionism—was to be Jewry’s destiny, providential or otherwise, and it would take contributions from all kinds of Jews working in concert to will the age-old dream into reality.