Explaining the Long — and Largely Untold — History of Jewish Opposition to Zionism
Allan C. Brownfeld
A THREAT FROM WITHIN: A CENTURY OF JEWISH OPPOSITION TO ZIONISM,
by Yakov M. Rabkin,
Zed Books Ltd. (Distributed in the U.S. by Palgrave Macmillan),
While many in Israel and in Jewish communities in the U.S. and other countries now promote the idea that Zionism and Judaism are, in effect, the same and that opposition to Zionism constitutes “anti-Semitism,” the historical fact — largely untold — is that, for most of its history, Zionism has been a decidedly minority movement among Jews throughout the world.
Since its inception as a political movement in 1897, both Reform and Orthodox Jews rejected Zionism’s basic premise of creating a Jewish state in Palestine and having Jews either emigrate to it or, at the very least, consider it “central” to their Jewish identity.
An overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, unwilling to accept the restoration of a Jewish state in Palestine by means other than divine intervention, considered Zionism a false messianic movement. Most Jewish liberals and socialists, having accepted the faith of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on optimism, reason and progress, rejected Zionism as a reactionary philosophy. Acculturated Jews in Western and Central Europe, regarding themselves as merely members of a religious community, rejected the notion that their nationality was not English, French or German — but “Jewish.”
Reform Judaism held a position quite contrary to that promulgated by Zionism. The most articulate spokesman for the German Reform movement, the distinguished rabbi and scholar Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), argued that Judaism developed through an evolutionary process that had begun with God’s revelation to the Hebrew prophets. That revelation was progressive; new truth became available to every generation. The underlying and unchangeable essence of Judaism was its morality. The core of Judaism was ethical monotheism. In his view, the Jewish people were a religious community, destined to carry on the mission to “serve as a light to the nations,” to bear witness to God and His moral law. The dispersion of the Jews was not a punishment for their sins, but a part of God’s plan whereby they were to disseminate the universal message of ethical monotheism throughout the world. Geiger deleted all prayers about a return to Zion in a Reform prayerbook that he edited in l854.
American Reform Judaism, in the l885 Pittsburgh Platform, rejected Jewish nationalism. Its fifth paragraph declared: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community.”
On March 4, 1919, Julius Kahn, a Jewish congressman from San Francisco, delivered to President Woodrow Wilson a statement endorsed by 299 prominent Jewish Americans denouncing the Zionists for attempting to segregate Jews and reverse the historic trend toward emancipation. It objected to the creation of a distinctly Jewish state in Palestine because such a political entity would be contrary “to the principles of democracy.” On April 20, 1922, Rabbi David Philipson testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and rejected the characterization of Palestine “as the national home of the Jewish people.” He insisted that, “No land can be spoken of as the national home of the Jewish people, as Jews are nationals of many lands.”
Religious Opposition to Zionism
An important new book, A Threat From Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism by Yakov M. Rabkin, Professor of History at the University of Montreal, sheds significant light on Jewish religious opposition to Zionism. After completing his university education, Dr. Rabkin studied Judaism with rabbis in Montreal, Paris and Jerusalem. He brings a lifetime of study and experience to his subject.
In the forward, Joseph Agassi, professor of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University, notes that, “The author raises questions about the myth that Israel protects the Jews around the world and constitutes their natural homeland. This book rightly shows that this myth is anti-Jewish. Most Israelis mistake this myth for Zionism and argue that we can only reach independence once all the Diaspora Jews gather here. The Jews must therefore decide whether the interests of the State of Israel coincide or conflict with their own interests. However this question is taboo in the context of today’s Zionist ideology. Moreover, this ideology deems anti-Semitism unavoidable and Israel the only place where a Jew can be safe. This view is essentially undemocratic: it denies a priori any value of the emancipation of Jews in the modern world.”
Agassi notes that Professor Rabkin “mobilizes little known historical data in order to make distinctions between the following concepts: Zionism and Judaism; Israel as a state, as a country, as a territory and as the Holy Land ... this creates a real and dangerous confusion between faith and nationality ... One need not be religious in order to protest the exploitation by Israel of religious concepts. I am not religious and am not part of the current fad to find fault with Zionism and its history. But as an Israeli patriot and a philosopher, I find it imperative to make Judaic anti-Zionism a part of the badly needed debate about Israel’s past, present and future.”
From Orthodox to Reform
Jewish opponents of Zionism, Rabkin points out, range from the ultra-Orthodox to the Reform. He writes that, “Jewish tradition holds that the only way to influence someone else’s behavior is through love and respect. However, the rejection of Zionism is often interpreted as an act of treachery toward the Jewish people. The rabbis of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London clearly formulate the dilemma: ‘We seem to have to choose between loyalty to our people and loyalty to God. Did not the Prophets love their people? Yet they castigated its leadership. Did anybody ever love the Jewish people more passionately than Jeremiah? Yet he condemned their sins — and for that very reason — all the more passionately.’ Indeed, the detractors of Zionism are often passionate; some go as far as to diabolize both Zionism and the state of Israel that emerged from it.”
Among the many tendencies within Zionism, Rabkin notes, the one that has triumphed set out to reach four principal objectives: (1) to transform the transnational Jewish identity centered on Torah into a national identity, like ones then common in Europe; (2) to develop a new national vernacular based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew; (3) to transfer the Jews from their countries of origin to Palestine; and (4) to establish political and economic control over the “new old land,” if need be by force. While other nationalists needed only to wrest control of their countries from imperial powers to become “masters in their own houses,” Zionists faced a far greater challenge in trying to achieve their first three objectives simultaneously.
Zionism has changed Jewish life and shifted the meaning of the word “Israel.” According to Rabbi Jacob Neusner, an American academic and one of the most prolific interpreters of Judaism, “The word ‘Israel’ today generally refers to the overseas political nation, the State of Israel. When people say, ‘I am going to Israel,’ they mean a trip to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. ... But the word ‘Israel’ in Scripture and in the canonical writings of the religion, Judaism, speaks of the holy community that God has called forth through Abraham and Sarah, to which God has given the Torah (‘teaching’) at Mount Sinai ... The Psalmists and the Prophets, the sages of Judaism in all ages, the prayers that Judaism teaches, all use the word ‘Israel’ to mean ‘the holy community.’ Among most Judaisms, to be ‘Israel’ means to model life in the image, after the likeness of God, who is made manifest in the Torah. Today ‘Israel’ in synagogue worship speaks of the holy community, but ‘Israel’ in Jewish community affairs means ‘the State of Israel.’”
State More Important Than Jews
When Neusner concludes that “the state has become more important than the Jews,” Rabkin writes, “he draws a clear line of distinction between Jews and Judaism and underscores the identity shift that the Jews have experienced over the last century, as they moved from being a community of faith toward forming a community of fate.” Neusner believes that, “If the Jews as a group grow few in numbers, the life of the religion, Judaism, may yet flourish among those that practice it. And if the Jews as a group grow numerous and influential, but do not practice the religion, Judaism (or any other religion), or practice a religion other than Judaism, then the religion, Judaism, will lose its voice, even while the Jews as a group flourish. The upshot is simple. A book (that is, a set of religious ideas, divorced from a social entity) is not Judaism, but the opinions on any given subject of every individual Jew also do not add up to Judaism.”
Zionism, Rabkin points out, arose in the last years of the 19th century among the assimilated Jews of Central Europe. “After their formal emancipation,” he writes, “a small number of Jews aspiring to high society continued to feel excluded and rejected. They ... no longer obeyed the commandments of the Torah and knew little or nothing of the normative aspects of Judaism. They had embarked, in fact, upon the same broad movement of secularization that was then sweeping Europe, and felt frustrated at being unable to enjoy universal acceptance ... their attempts at assimilation had failed to produce the anticipated social and psychological benefits ... ‘Zionism’ was an invention to produce the anticipated social and psychological benefits ... ‘Zionism’ was an invention of intellectuals and assimilated Jews ... who turned their back on the rabbis and aspired to modernity, seeking desperately for a remedy for their existential anxiety.”
Conditions Unfavorable to Jews
Zionism gained support in areas where social and political conditions were unfavorable to Jews, particularly the Russian Empire. Indeed, Rabkin argues that Zionism has far more in common with the emerging nationalisms which swept Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than anything to be found in Jewish tradition. In fact, he writes, “Zionism held out the hope of rejecting this flawed individual assimilation in favor of a broad collective assimilation, of the ‘normalization’ of the Jewish people. Almost none of these assimilated Jews called into question the idea of assimilation itself, which for them remained an irrefutable sign of progress. For these Jews, many of whom belonged to the first generation to break away from loyalty to the Torah, the option of a return to traditional Judaism was no option at all. Some were to convert to Christianity...none would advocate a return to the practice of their ancestral religion.”
Rather than emerging from Jewish tradition, Rabkin shows, Zionism was a rejection of the tradition and was very much a creature of its time and place: “Zionism was one among many of the nationalist programs that were to inspire millions of people throughout Europe in the 20th century. ... A striking example of the way in which Jewish nationalism came to substitute for Judaism was the call issued by a young Jew to Vladimir Jabotinsky (l880-1940), a Russian author and Zionist leader: ‘Our life is dull and our hearts are empty, for there is no God in our midst; give us a God, sir, worthy of dedication and sacrifice, and you will see what we can do.’ The response came swiftly and took its inspiration from the mass movements that were then appearing in many European countries. Betar, a para-military youth organization mobilized tens of thousands of young Jews. Even though it replaced Judaism, Betar was just as exclusive in its requirement of whole-hearted unswerving devotion to the Zionist cause.”
The language of redemption is omnipresent in most versions of Zionist ideology, replacing the physical land of Israel for God. “Ben-Gurion’s Laborites,” Rabkin writes, “made a particularly coherent use of redemptive imagery, using the expression geulat haaretz (redemption of the land), to signify the purchase of Arab land by Jews. The Passover Haggadah, a seminal formative Judaic text about redemption, also became an instrument of secularization, undergoing major changes at the hands of Zionist educators. While references to God disappeared, the Haggadah read in certain leftist kibbutzim replaced God with Stalin, ‘who led us out of the house of slavery.’”
Organic European Nationalism
This instrumentalization of religion, writes Israeli historian and political scientist Zeev Sternhell, is not specific to Zionism but can be found in many varieties of organic nationalism propagated in Europe from the mid-l9th century onward. Rabkin declares that, “While keeping intact the social function of religion in order to unify the people, Zionism eliminated its metaphysical content. In the same way religion became a vital element of many varieties of nationalism; for example, neither the Polish variant nor 1’Action Francaise made any efforts to disguise their Catholic traits, Sternhell defines this trend as ‘religion without God,’ religion that has preserved only its outward symbols.”
Aaron David Gordon (l856-l922), another of Zionism’s leading Russian-born theoreticians, explicitly denied the divine origin of the Torah while using it to justify the conquest of the Holy Land. Gordon “recycled” in a nationalist sense the blessing offered by Jews on certain holidays: “Blessed be Thee who chose us from among all nations.” Where the blessing refers to having been chosen to accomplish the obligations imposed by the Torah, Gordon reinterprets it to mean that Jews have been “chosen” to acquire the Holy Land. In his view, the principal danger was European liberalism, which offered each Jew an individual choice and thus produced a national life “that was not worth living.” Devaluation of the absolute value of the individual human life lay at the heart of several European radical nationalisms, including German National Socialism and Italian Fascism.
For the Zionists, writes Rabkin, “The Jews had simply used religion as a means of realizing their ‘will to exist’; Judaism, in other words, was little more than an instrument of survival. Seen from this perspective, the Torah would have been granted in order to preserve the unity of the people. But once they returned to their land, the Jews would no longer have any need of its commandments, for a new national conscience shaped in the Land of Israel would be sufficient to maintain that unity. Such explanations and particularly the expression ‘will to exist’ are repugnant to traditional Jewish sensibility. The idea itself gained popularity, of course, in those European nationalist movements that affirmed the will of peoples dispersed throughout the Russian and Austrian empires to survive and to establish a nation-state of their own.”
Little Understanding of Free Societies
Zionist leaders took as their model the nationalisms which emerged in largely undemocratic societies and seemed to have little understanding of the dynamics of free, open societies such as France, England and the United States. “We must bear in mind,” writes Rabkin, “that Zionism takes as its example the organic nationalisms of Central and Eastern Europe, where nationalists were struggling to create a state, to set up legal and political structures for an already existing nation. Contacts with the exclusive aspects of German, Polish or Ukrainian nationalism were to exert a long-term influence on the Zionist movement and Israeli society. But few Zionists were aware of a countervailing reality, such as that of France, where in a slow and deliberate process, the state made use of an existing legal and political framework to create a nation. They had never experienced the kind of tolerant nationalism that could allow for a clear distinction between nation, religion and society — the model that enables large Jewish communities to thrive in France, England and the U.S. today (and where a substantial number of rabbinical critics of Zionism can be found). In fact, once they discarded Judaism as the cultural foundation of the Jews, the Zionist movement and the State of Israel had no choice but to promote a national identity based on ethnicity and consolidated by the Arab threat. The survival of a ‘secular Jewish people’ is therefore contingent on the perpetuation of the Zionist state.”
From the beginning of Zionism, opposition was vocal both within the Orthodox and Reform communities, “Virulent opposition to Zionism ... is the hallmark of several Orthodox Jewish movements,” writes Rabkin. “They consider Zionism to be a heresy, a denial of fundamental messianic beliefs and a violation of the promise made to God not to acquire the Holy Land by human effort ... Reform Jews have also formulated Judaic critiques of Zionism, drawing on their own interpretation of the Torah ... Reform Judaism sought to adapt Jewish rites and customs to the modern world. ... this included a weakening of the ethnic dimension of Judaism. Its adherents abandoned all reference to the return to Zion ...”
Many today forget the fact that, as Rabkin writes, “Zionism constituted the most radical revolution in Jewish history. Opposition to this nationalist conceptualization of the Jew and of Jewish history was as intense as it was immediate. Even those rabbis who at first encouraged settlement in Palestine in the closing decades of the 19th century felt obliged to turn against Zionism. What made the Jews unique, they declared, was neither the territory of Eretz Israel nor the Hebrew language, but the Torah and the practice of mitzvahs. The pious Jews of Palestine — the only kind before Zionist settlement — enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy granted by the sultan. They had never contemplated national status, a concept as foreign to the Palestinian Jews as it was to the Ottoman authorities in Istanbul.”
Rabbi Robert S. Wistrich, sensitive to the influence of European nationalism on Zionism, voiced sharp disapproval of its emphasis on the role of the “Volk” as the exclusive subject of Jewish history: “There is no Jewish nation. The Jews form ... a special religious community. They should cultivate the ancient Hebrew language, study their rich literature, know their history, cherish their faith, and make the greatest sacrifices for it; they should hope and trust in the wisdom of divine providence, the promises of their prophets and the development of humankind so that the sublime ideas and truths of Judaism may gain the day. But for the rest, they should amalgamate with the nations whose citizens they are, fight in their battles, and promote their institutions for the welfare of the whole.”
The influential Viennese rabbi and historian Moritz Gudemann (1835-1918) rejected as early as the first Zionist congress in 1897, any attempt to separate Jews from their monotheistic faith. In his view, Torah must be free of territorial, political or national considerations. Ever since the Babylonian captivity, the Jews had, he believed, become a “community of believers.” Jewish nationalism would, in spiritual terms, be a step backward with regard to the sublime vision of the messianic realm that the Jews had developed.
Zionism and False Messiahs
We find the same categorical rejection from Rabbi Joseph Samuel Bloch (1850-l923), a native of Galicia. He compared the Zionist project with the false messiah Sabbatai Tzevi and underscored the supranational character of Judaism. He explained to Therodor Herzl the Talmudic prohibition against returning en masse to Palestine before the arrival of the Messiah.
Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) and Simon Dubnow (1860-l941) held nothing but contempt for Zionism and insisted that organic connections with exile constituted an essential precondition for the survival of the Jews through the centuries: “Because Jewish history from the beginning moves from exile to exile, and because therefore the spirit of exile, the alienation from the land, the struggle for the higher life against decline into the limitations of soil and time, is implanted in this history from its beginning.”
The connection between Zionism and anti-Semitism is explored by Professor Rabkin. He reports that, “Certain rabbinical thinkers have asserted that racial anti-Semitism raised its head in Europe a few years after the emergence of a secular Jewish identity, thereby intimating a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, In fact, when the Zionists received the support of non-Jewish politicians, the support was often embarrassing. One of the first to express his enthusiasm for a Jewish state in Palestine, in a speech to the Hungarian parliament in 1878, was, in fact an inveterate anti-Semite, Herzl’s contacts with the tsarist authorities and those cultivated by Vladimir Jabotinsky with the Polish anti-Semites underline the conceptual compatibility of Zionism and anti-Semitism. The anti-Semites wished to be rid of the Jews; the Zionists sought to gather the Jews in the Holy Land. A recent study of the history of Palestine under the British Mandate has pointed up the assistance provided to Zionism by the anti-Semites in the Colonial Office both in London and Jerusalem, and the efforts of the Zionist leadership to cultivate the myth of a world Jewish plot. Several Judaic thinkers looked upon this coalition of interests with a heavy heart.”
Division Between Jewishness and Religion
Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz regrets the division between Jewishness and the religion of Judaism brought about by Zionism. He writes: “The historical Jewish people was defined neither as a race, nor as a people of this country or that, or of this political system or that, nor as a people that speaks the same language, but as the people of Torah Judaism and of its commandments, as the people of a specific way of life, both on the spiritual and the practical plane, a way of life that expresses the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, the yoke of the Torah and of its commandments. This consciousness exercised its effect from within the people. It formed its national essence; it maintained itself down through the generations and was able to preserve its identity irrespective of times or circumstances. The words spoken by Saadia Gaon more than one thousand years ago, ‘Our nation exists only in the Torah’ had not only a normative but also an empirical meaning. They testified to a historical fact whose power could be felt up until the 19th century. It was then that the fracture, which has not ceased to widen with time, first occurred: the break between Jewishness and Judaism.”
In Rabbi Yitzhak Blau’s eyes, Zionism has inflicted worse harm upon the Jews than upon the Arabs. The Arabs may have lost their land and their homes, but the Jews, by accepting Zionism, had lost their historical identity. Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman (l875-l941), a pillar of Lithuanian Judaism, compared Zionists to the members of the Yevsektzia, the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party. Wielding their own form of secularized messianism, the Jewish Communists attacked traditional Jewish life with extraordinary vehemence.
Though they often express themselves in different ways, Professor Rabkin states, “Zionism’s foes tend to agree on the nature of the dangers it represents. First among them is, not unexpectedly, the internal dimension: the conversion of the Jews into members of a secular nation. Identification with the State of Israel has, they argue, substituted for the value system specific to Judaism — compassion and humility — the kind of ideals common to most nationalisms — egotism and national pride. For the Zionists of the Diaspora, this danger extends to the reduction of Jewish identity to that of a vicarious ‘Israeli’ one, a fragile identity that could not survive the demise of the State of Israel, For these critics, to mortgage the future of Judaism to the fate of a fragile state is rather short-sighted.”
Gulf Between Secularism and Religion
In Israel itself, the gulf that separates the secular from Judaism in all its forms has widened. Israeli newspapers are full of caricatures of Orthodox Jews, not unlike the anti-Semitic stereotypes current in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Israeli historian Noah Efron declares: “This kind of hostility is not novel. Nowhere are Haredi Jews as feared and hated as in Israel. Israel is a bastion of a classic sort of anti-Semitism, aimed not against all Jews, but against the ultra-Orthodox ... One need not search hard to find denigrating images of the Altjude (traditional Jew) in Zionist rhetoric and pamphletry. Herzl had already noted in 1894 that Jews had ‘taken on a number of anti-social characteristics’ in the ghettos of Europe and that Jewish character was ‘damaged.’ The poet David Frishman opined that ‘Traditional Jewish life is a dog’s life that evokes disgust.’ Joseph Haim Brenner likened Jews to ‘filthy dogs, inhuman, wounded dogs.’ Yehuda Leib Gordon, an active opponent of Judaism, wrote that European Jews were ‘parasites.’ Micha Joseph Berdyczewski christened traditional Jews ‘spiritual slaves, men whose natural forces had dried up and whose relation to the world was no longer normal,’ and elsewhere, ‘a non-people, a non-nation — non-men, indeed.”
The Zionist belief in the efficacy of force is, Professor Rabkin argues, a rejection of the genuinely Jewish tradition: “In theological terms, the loss of the Temple spelled the end of an entire decision-making system that had made military action legitimate. ... The Torah replaced the land in its physical sense and became, to use the expression of Rabbi Weinberg, ‘The national territory.’ The philosopher George Steiner echoes him: the Book itself is the homeland of the Jews, Henceforth, the Jews were to be known as ‘the people of the book’; their standard-bearer would be the scholar, the wise man ... rather than the conquering general.”
Use of Violence
The use of violence, Rabkin points out, was to be found among Zionists from the very beginning, against both indigenous Arabs and Jews who dared to challenge the emerging Zionist consensus. Israel Shohat, a Russian Jewish settler in Palestine, was faithful to his nationalist convictions: “Soon after his arrival in Palestine he proposed replacing the Arab guards employed by Jewish landowners with Jews. It was not long before the Holy Land’s first armed group, Ha-Shomer (the Guard), also known as a ‘conquest group,’ was organized. Its members committed repeated acts of violence against the Arabs and forced the Jewish settlers to replace their Arab workers with Jews. After World War I, Ha-Shomer was integrated into the Hagganah, which was formed in 1920.”
Albert Einstein was among the Jewish humanists who denounced the Betar youth movement in 1935, describing it as being “as much a danger to our youth as Hitlerism is to German youth.” Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise expressed his indignation at what he saw as a slogan to fit the times: “Germany for Hitler, Italy for Mussolini, Palestine for Jabotinsky.” He considered Jabotinsky’s philosophy to be militaristic, while “the whole tradition of the Jewish people is against militarism.”
Militarism has long provoked strong reactions among religious Jews. In late 19th century Vienna, Rabbi Moritz Gudemann predicted that the Zionists would ultimately create a Judaism of cannons and bayonets that would invert the roles of David and Goliath and would end in a perversion of Judaism, which never glorified war and never idolized warriors. Quoting from an Austrian poet, he concluded that the Zionists were following a path that leads “from humanity through nationality to bestiality.”
Terrorism has frequently reared its head among extremists within the ranks of Zionism. The bombing of the King David Hotel, the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte and the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin are well known. The political assassination of Jacob Israel De Haan (1881-1924) is less well known and, in Rabkin’s view “is often used by anti-Zionists to illustrate the cruelty of the Jewish national liberation movement. De Haan was the spokesperson of Agudat Israel, and his killing set in motion a wave of indignation among the religious Jews of Jerusalem and elsewhere.”
Rabkin describes De Haan, his idealism and his death: “Driven by his Zionist convictions, De Haan, a Dutch poet, journalist and barrister, had immigrated to Palestine. Jerusalem high society lionized him; he quickly gained entry among the most influential circles. His reports, published in the Netherlands, expressed his boundless confidence in Zionism. In 1920, he organized a spectacular defense of Vladimir Jabotinsky, who had been accused of anti-Arab violence. But his acquaintance with Jabotinsky and the other leaders of the future Israeli right wing, which was fascinated by the growing fascist movements of Europe, alerted De Haan to the threat that Zionism’s violent side represented. He began to deplore openly the aggressiveness of the Zionist enterprise and allied himself with Agudat Israel, thus becoming a representative of religious anti-Zionism. He also became aware of the conflict with the Arabs that Zionist activists were fomenting through discriminatory hiring policies, moral laxity and nationalist aspirations that until then had been foreign to the region.”
De Haan’s dispatches, published in the Netherlands and in England, began to adopt an anti-Zionist tone, De Haan knew Zionist circles from within, as well as the Western audience to which his reports were addressed, He had begun to think seriously about setting up an anti-Zionist coalition that would have included Agudat Israel and other religious Jewish groups, as well as Arab notables.
“An alliance of Jews, Muslims and Christians for peace,” writes Rabkin, “stood poised to discredit the minority Zionists who, imbued with a sense of mission, insisted that they alone spoke in the name of the Jewish people. They ostracized, degraded and insulted De Haan ... De Haan began to receive death threats, but refused either to leave Palestine or to abandon his anti-Zionist activities, Finally, when a newspaper published his intention to establish an anti-Zionist movement on his return from a trip to London, agents of the Hagganah shot De Haan down as he came out into the street after prayers. ... The order to ‘eliminate the traitor’ came from the highest echelons of the Zionist movement. The description of De Haan as a ‘traitor’ shed light once more on the influence of the Russian terrorist movements, much of whose rhetoric was adopted by the Zionists. Like the Bolsheviks, the Zionists considered all opposition to their political goals as illegitimate.”
Rabbi Joseph Haim Sonnenfeld, an anti-Zionist religious leader in Palestine, quickly lashed out at the moral morass into which the Zionists, blinded by their political aims, had fallen: “This murder, perpetrated by the descendants of Jacob employing the tactics of Esau in order to still the voice of Yisrael and Yaakov (the first two names of the victim) must strengthen us in our struggle to guard our camp against the influences alien to our spirit and our Torah.”
Inculcation of Fear
Rabkin laments that, “... the sad tale of De Haan reminds us that the terrorism the Zionists brought with them from Russia to Palestine in the early years of the 20th century would ultimately be turned against their descendants in the closing decades of the century ... Indeed, aside from the Hagganah, which was responsible for the assassination of De Haan, several armed organiz¬ations — such as Lehi and Irgun — perpetrated terrorist acts. Their leaders, Itzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, went on to become prime ministers of Israel. What united these military organizations was the conviction that it was necessary to inculcate fear and to terrorize the adversary, all in the name of establishing a nation. Ironically, the same approach was later to be adopted by the Palestinian terrorists.”
Sadly, in Rabkin’s view, such violence has succeeded: “The State of Israel is perhaps the only democratic country where, after World War II, a political assassination could be said to have achieved its objectives. If the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat caused barely a ripple in that country’s stance with regard to Israel, the murder of Prime Minister Rabin in 1995 by a young National Religious Jew arguably brought a halt to the reconciliation with the Palestinians that had begun with Oslo, or at least postponed it, The first political assassination, that of De Haan, had also achieved its aim. His murder put a stop to contacts established between the anti-Zionist majority in the Holy Land in the l920s and the world’s great powers. In both cases, terrorism bore bitter fruit: discord among Jews and Arabs.”
The controversial role played by Zionist leaders during World War II is carefully examined by Professor Rabkin. “The Zionists were more concerned about the future state than the fate of the Jews in the extermination camps,” he writes. “In 1938, following Kristallnacht ... David Ben-Gurion is reputed to have said: ‘If I knew that all Jewish children could be saved by having them relocated to England, but only half by transferring them to Palestine, I would choose the second option, because what is at stake would not only have been the fate of those children, but also the historical destiny of the Jewish people.’ Consistent with his vision, Ben-Gurion was ‘opposed to undertake rescue operations, as well as to the use, for such operations, of funds raised by Zionist organizations.’”
Concentration on Palestine
Following a visit to the Jewish communities in Europe before World War II, Rabbi Morris Lazaron, later to become a leader in the American Council for Judaism, protested against the concentration of funding on projects in Palestine to the detriment of efforts to rescue the Jews of Europe, then under direct threat from the Nazis. He criticized the Zionist assertion that only Palestine could become a safe haven for the Jews and lashed out at the Zionist propaganda that sought to convince Jews that, sooner or later, the entire world would reject them. According to Rabkin, “Rabbi Elmer Berger (another early leader of the American Council for Judaism) attributed to the Zionists the same crime of which the Haredim accused them: of sabotaging any initiative for the rescue of the Jews of Europe, including the decision by President Roosevelt to find, during the earliest days of the war, countries that would offer the refugees asylum.”
Morris Ernst (1888-1976), a Jewish human rights activist with close ties to President Roosevelt, informed his Zionist friends of the White House initiative to rescue Jews from Europe. He declared: “I assure you that I was thrown out of parlors of friends of mine. And they said very frankly ... ‘Morris,’ they would say, ‘this is treason — you’re undermining the Zionist movement,’ I’d say, ‘Yes, maybe I am. But I am much more interested in a haven for a half a million people — oppressed throughout the world.’” Editorially, The New York Times asked: “Why in God’s name, should the fate of those unhappy people be subordinated to a single cry of Statehood?”
Several sources accused the Zionists of applying a policy of “selection,” that is, of admitting to Palestine only those most likely to make an active contribution to the Zionist enterprise. A 1938 speech given by Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, is cited in this respect: “Palestine cannot absorb the Jews of Europe. We want only the best of Jewish youth to come to us. We want only the educated to enter Palestine for the purpose of increasing its culture. The other Jews will have to stay where they are and face whatever fate awaits them. These millions of Jews are dust on the wheels of history and they may have to be blown away. We don’t want them pouring into Palestine. We don’t want Tel Aviv to become another low-grade ghetto.”
Indifference to the Holocaust
In Israel, a number of historians now confirm the accusations of indifference to the Holocaust on the part of Zionist leaders. “They concur,” writes Rabkin, “in their assessment that Ben Gurion and his circle hindered attempts to save the European Jewish communities from extermination. The Zionist leadership, they argue, did its utmost to subordinate rescue efforts to their primary objective, which was the creation of a New Hebrew people and the establishment of a Jewish state. It treated human beings as ‘human material,’ reducing the survival and the death of millions to a matter of political expediency.”
Israel, the state, rather than God, Rabkin notes, has become the object of worship for many Jews at the present time: “The elevation of secular identity to the status of an ideal has not eliminated the sacred: it has transferred it instead from Judaism to other areas that then become sacrilized. An exposition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem eloquently underscored the transfer of sacred meaning from Judaic to secular national symbols.”
Professor Rabkin cites in the commentary by Rashi (Rabbi Solomon, son of Isaac, 1040-1105), a classic of Jewish exegesis one of the oaths registered in the Talmud: “Do not go up (immigrate to Israel) together by force.”
“Narrow-Minded and Reactionary”
In the early 20th century, the reaction to Zionism among both the Orthodox and Reform was overwhelming. The French rabbis were unanimous. Zionism was “narrow-minded and reactionary.” They refused to recognize Jews as a separate political nation. “We, the French Israelites, have a fatherland and we intend to keep it.”
Rabbi Israel Domb, in his book Transformation, writes: “It manifestly is absurd to believe that we have been waiting for 2000 years in so much anguish and with such high hopes and with so many heart-felt prayers merely in order to finish up by playing the same role in the world as an Albania or a Honduras. Is it not the height of futility, to believe that all the streams of blood and tears, to which we ourselves can bear witness in our own time apart from the testimony of our ancestors, should have been fated to the acquisition of this kind of nationhood which the Rumanians or Czechs, for instance, have achieved to a greater extent of success without all these preparations.”
Professor Rabkin points out that many positions taken by anti-Zionists are close to those of the Israeli “peace camp.” A document from the ultra-Orthodox Naturie Karta asserts: “The Zionist movement was not only a heretical departure from Judaism ... It was monstrously blind to the indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land. In the l890s, less than 5% of the Holy Land’s population was Jewish, yet Theodor Herzl ... described his movement as that of ‘a people without a land for a land without a people’ ... They have dispossessed thousands ... This ... has plunged the region into its never-ending spiral of bloodshed.”
Moving Closer to Zionism
In recent years, Rabkin shows, many Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews have moved closer to accepting Zionist ideas. There remain, however, both within the Orthodox and Reform communities, those who maintain the traditional rejection of Jewish nationalism. “From within Reform Judaism,” writes Rabkin, “voices questioning the existence of a Zionist state and accusing American Zionists of hypocrisy are also being heard. The American Council for Judaism has held to a traditional anti-Zionist position even though Reform synagogues tended to identify more closely with the State of Israel in the wake of the Six Day War, several Reform rabbis protested against the wave of patriotism. They spoke out against a vicious cycle of violence, which they accused the Zionists of having fomented, and recalled the tradition glorifying those who contrive to avoid war, John Rayner, a Reform rabbi in London (a long time contributor to Issues), invoked the story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob, to point out the futility of revenge. The Torah enjoins the descendants of the two brothers, the Edomite, and the Israelites to forego armed conflict: ‘You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is a kinsman, You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land’ (Deuteronomy 23:8). The Torah, speaking of Egypt, stresses the reasons for gratitude among the Israelites, and not revenge. Emphasizing that Jewish tradition disapproves of the use of force, Rayner recalled a slogan he had seen at the commemoration of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: ‘The best reprisal is peace.’”
In Israel and within the American Jewish community, history is being written without placing Jewish opposition to Zionism in the important place which Professor Rabkin believes it deserves. “Even though Israelis are familiar with the Judaic opposition to Zionism,” he writes, “this opposition is rarely mentioned in histories of Zionism. Zionism is both a break in Jewish continuity and a break in the historiography of the Jews ... the majority of national histories written in Israel and elsewhere ignore the rabbinical resistance. Even the New Historians, who have paid serious, even sympathetic attention to Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise, tend to ignore the opposition of the Haredim, their political initiatives and the violence used against them by the Zionist establishment. Reform Jews who oppose Zionism are even less visible in the historiography of Zionism and of the State of Israel.”
Pressure Against Critics
Of particular concern, writes Rabkin, is the fact that Zionist groups “often exercise moral, economic and even physical pressure against their critics. Threats of reprisal are commonplace for those who refuse to display their solidarity with the State of Israel ... To label as anti-Semitism all anti-Zionist activity is an effective method for cementing the identification of Jews with Zionism. In the words of Rabbi David Goldberg of London, the Jews may well be in the process of committing a serious anachronism: ‘To equate a modern Islamic political response to the State of Israel with Christian theological animadversions against the Jewish people, (as some do), is dangerously ahistorical ... We Jews do ourselves a disservice if we cry ‘anti-Semite’ with the same stridency at a liberal commentator who criticizes the Israeli army’s disproportionate response to terrorist outrages and at ... the lout who asserts that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a genuine document.”
Rejecting Thought Control
Fortunately, Rabkin shows, more and more prominent Jews are rejecting such efforts at thought control. A veteran of American Jewish organizations who has taken a critical distance from his institutional past, Henry Siegman, regrets what he calls “Jewish community McCarthyism” and has said that for many Jewish organizations, “if you do not support the government of Israel, then your Jewishness and not your political judgment will be called into question.”
Professor Rabkin has written a scholarly work which brings alive for the reader a complex history which has been largely ignored. No one who reads this book will ever again believe that Zionism and Judaism are the same, or that Zionism enjoys the level of support among Jews in the United States and elsewhere in the world which it claims. •