Read A History of Zionism Online

Authors: Walter Laqueur

Tags: #History, #Israel, #Jewish Studies, #Social History, #20th Century, #Sociology & Anthropology: Professional, #c 1700 to c 1800, #Middle East, #Nationalism, #Sociology, #Jewish, #Palestine, #History of specific racial & ethnic groups, #Political Science, #Social Science, #c 1800 to c 1900, #Zionism, #Political Ideologies, #Social & cultural history

A History of Zionism

BOOK: A History of Zionism
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To the memory of my parents

We would like to thank the following for permitting us to use photographs from their archives; Bassano and Vandyk Studies and William Gordon Davis,
figure 15
; Imperial War Museum,
figure 16
; The Jewish Agency, Jerusalem,
figures 1
; The Jewish Agency, London,
figures 3
Radio Times
Hulton Picture Library,
figures 14
Maps 1
, and
are reproduced from
Jewish History Atlas
by Martin Gilbert (cartography by Arthur Banks).
Map 4
is drawn by Arthur Banks from
United Palestine Appeal 1941 Yearbook
, New York, 1941.


Agudat Israel
religious-orthodox, non-Zionist political movement, founded 1912.
Ahdut Ha’ avoda
(Labour unity) Jewish workers’ party, 1919-30.
immigration to Israel.
(Brit Trumpeldor) Revisionist youth organisation, founded 1923.
Brit Shalom
(Peace Covenant) Jewish association advocating Jewish-Arab rapprochement,
the final aim (of the Zionist movement).
Gdud Avoda
Labour Legion (1920-7).
Zionist work in the diaspora.
(defence) Jewish defence organisation.
distribution of alms from abroad among the orthodox community in Jerusalem.
Hapoel Hatzair
(The Young Worker) Jewish workers’ party (1905-30).
(The Watchman) Jewish watchmen organisation before the First World War.
Hashomer Hatzair
(The Young Watchman) left-wing socialist movement, founded as a youth movement in 1913.
mystical-religious trend in east European Jewry.
(hope) Zionist and Israeli national anthem.
primary religious school.
the Israeli General Federation of Trade Unions, established 1920.
Hoveve Zion
(The Lovers of Zion) pre-Herzlian Zionist organisation.
Irgun Zvai Leumi
(IZL) national military organisation (Revisionist), 1931-48.
Kibbush Avoda
Conquest of (Jewish) Labour.
collective agricultural settlement.
collective agricultural settlement.
Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (Stern group), 1940-8.
Labour party, founded 1930.
supporter of the
Zionist religious party, founded 1902.
Moshav Ovdim
cooperative agricultural settlement.
Poale Zion
(The Workers of Zion) Socialist party, established 1903.
ancient coin, annual membership fee providing the right to vote for the Zionist Congress.
Va’ad Leumi
National Council (of Palestinian Jewry), 1920-48.
(settlement) the Jewish population of Palestine.
the Revisionist Party, founded 1925.

A note on spelling

Zionist leaders of East European origin have used at different stages of their life various spellings of their names in their publications. An attempt to unify the spelling has been made, but it has been impossible to achieve full consistency; the same applies to the transliteration of Hebrew names.

to the 2003 Edition
Theodor Herzl has entered political history as the author of two small books: a political pamphlet titled
Der Judenstaat
(The Jewish State) and a work of political science fiction he called
(Old New Land).
, published in 1902, describes the visit to Palestine, after an absence of many years, of two Europeans sympathetic to the Zionist cause. Confronting a Jewish state for the first time, they are awestruck by the enormous achievements that have been made, over and above what even the most enthusiastic visitors could reasonably have expected. Had they postponed their visit a bit longer, their amazement would have been even greater. Even those who knew Palestine in 1948, the year the Jewish state actually came into being, would not recognize it today. The number of Jews living in Palestine in 1948 was about half a million; it has increased tenfold since. Palestine was a tiny community at that time; Israel today is more populous than half a dozen European countries, including Norway and Finland. It absorbed during its first years of statehood a population of immigrants three times larger than the population already living in the country, a feat unique in the annals of mankind. Many hundreds of new cities, towns, and suburbs came into being. While for years Israel depended on outside financial help, it gradually became economically independent. Its standard of living is comparable to that of many European countries, it has a vibrant cultural life, with many universities, theaters, and symphony orchestras, and its scientific institutions are second to none (as indeed Herzl had envisaged). In reports produced by international organizations that measure various types of economic and social progress, Israel usually appears among the first ten or twenty countries. But the quality of its domestic political life is far from ideal. There are too many political parties, and there has been corruption at even the highest levels of government; minorities have not always been treated fairly. But elections are still free, and the judiciary is still independent. The media enjoy almost complete freedom. It is the only democracy in a part of the world in which democracies are conspicuously absent.
Militarily, Israel does not depend on outside help but has armed forces capable in every respect of defending itself. And yet the Jewish state finds itself in serious trouble during the sixth decade of its existence. Contemporary visitors to
, having been duly impressed by the extraordinary achievements, are bound to ask whether the society that came into being still corresponds in any significant way to the dreams of Herzl and the other early leaders of the Zionist movement.
Let us be realistic:
was, of course, a utopia, and utopias are seldom realized. In the inevitable collision between dreams and realties, realities inevitably prove stronger. Herzl and his contemporaries did not really expect the Jewish state to be somehow superior, more highly accomplished, more ethically motivated than other countries; they were primarily looking for a refuge for the persecuted Jewish people and were aware of how difficult it would be simply to build a country like all others. If Israel has not lived up to expectations, it is certainly true that many of the countries that came into being after World War II have been disappointments to those who envisioned them and fought to bring them into being. Some of the basic reasons for such disappointments are rooted in history, and it would be pointless to put the blame on human shortcomings. It was the historical tragedy of Zionism (as I note in the last chapter of this book) that it appeared very late on the international scene, but it could not have appeared earlier on. The great majority of Jews did not want a state of their own before the twentieth century, and when storm clouds appeared on the horizon (and it is the historical merit of Zionism that it recognized this earlier than all others), when it became increasingly urgent to find a refuge for the Jews of Europe, the gates of Palestine were virtually closed. Nor was there sufficient willingness on the part of European and American Jewry to invest energy and financial resources in building a Jewish national home.
When the war began, a few hundred thousand Jews had found refuge in Palestine, but millions more eventually perished. At the end of the war the great reservoir of European Jewry that the Zionists had hoped would build the Jewish state had disappeared. The Jews of Palestine wanted a state of their own because there was no realistic political alternative. To almost everyone’s surprise they resisted the onslaught of the armies of the neighboring Arab countries that resulted when they declared their independence. But it was also clear that the demographic base necessary for a viable state was far too small, and so the “ingathering of the exiles” became the commandment of the hour. This led to a profound social and cultural change in the composition of the population of the new country. Zionism had been a European Jewish movement. Among the Jews in the Oriental countries there was a messianic religious belief in the ultimate return to Zion—or at least a feeling of historical attachment to it—but there was no overwhelming urge to move to Palestine. Zionist organizations in those countries were very small or nonexistent.
There was, however, an increase in anti-Semitism in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II and during the years leading up to it, and there was also a rise in those countries of a xenophobic nationalism. Foreigners were expelled from Egypt, and there were pogroms in Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere. The majority of Jews in these countries would have had to leave anyway, and for a considerable number of them (not, however, the well-to-do and the intelligentsia) Israel was the obvious haven. It is doubtful in retrospect whether this was true with regard to Moroccan Jews; they were the largest of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa and lived (as many of them later argued) more or less in peace with their neighbors. By urging this community to move to Israel, the enthusiastic Zionist emissaries created problems which, in all probability, they could not have predicted. North African immigrants complained about discrimination and exploitation. This was certainly not true on the political level—presidents of Israel came from among their ranks, as well as foreign and defense ministers, army chiefs of staff, etc. But a great many of the Sephardic immigrants were unhappy in their new homeland, complaining about their inferior social status and their dismal living conditions. They were not Zionist pioneers, as the early settlers from Eastern and Central Europe had been, and their expectations were high. They were unwilling to put up with the living conditions in the hastily constructed development towns to which they had been sent. They expected the state to take better care of their social and economic needs, but the state was not financially able to do so. And even if the state had done more, they would still have had legitimate complaints about European paternalism and a lack of national respect for their culture and traditions. By and large, Sephardic feelings of solidarity with their Ashkenazic coreligionists were strictly limited. Eventually they established their own political party to defend their interests, a party that while anti-Arab was not classically Zionist in character.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, approximately one million Soviet Jews arrived in Israel. Few had expected this, and I had certainly not imagined that a Russian translation of this book would appear in Moscow in my lifetime. The great majority of former Soviet citizens who arrived in Israel in the 1990s (in contrast to the Soviet Jews who had arrived in the preceding two decades) were not Zionists; a significant percentage were not even Jewish (the spouses, children, or grandchildren of Jews, they were eligible for Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return). They came simply in the hope of creating a better life for themselves and their families. Yet their economic absorption into Israel proceeded more smoothly than most had envisioned, most likely because they were better educated than the Sephardic Jews who had arrived decades earlier. The difficulties with the absorption of Soviet Jews into Israeli society exist on a different level: many of them proudly maintain their own cultural traditions, and they show little interest in shedding them to become part of a homogeneous Israeli society.
“We are a people. One people,” Herzl had declared to thunderous acclaim in a famous speech at one of the early Zionist congresses. But was this still true? There certainly had been a single, united Jewish people at one time, but Zionism had probably come too late to reunite it. Over the centuries of exile its various branches had gone their own ways. Jews throughout the world still shared some common beliefs and traditions, and they felt a degree of responsibility for one another during times of crisis. But most of them no longer believed in the biblical notion of redemption and in the ancient prophets’ promised rebuilding of the Israelite Kingdom.
The Jewish community in Palestine in 1948 consisted largely of a Labor Zionist cultural and political elite; massive influxes of new immigrants, most of them not Socialists and/or Zionists in the classic political sense, have led to societal polarization. The pre-state Zionists had succeeded in creating one of the world’s most egalitarian societies; today Israel rivals only the United States among developed nations as the country with the most pronounced disparities between the wealthy and the poor in income and economic status. This trend has been accompanied by an equally unfortunate ideological polarization. In every democracy there is a political left wing and a political right wing; often there are also extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing fringe elements. Although the issues at stake in Israel no longer involve capitalism versus socialism (in fact, the wealthy suburbs vote overwhelmingly for the Labor party, while the economically disadvantaged development towns opt for the right-wing parties), the growing influence of both left-wing and right-wing extremists portend a national crisis.
Over the past thirty years a belief has gained ground among the right wing that the entire historical Palestine is “ours by divine right.” This has resulted, among other things, in the mushrooming of settlements in areas of the West Bank and Gaza that have been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Most of them do not make sense either economically or militarily, and defending and guarding them ties down a considerable part of Israel’s army. They are also a major obstacle on the road to some form of peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians. The pseudo-religious mysticism that rationalizes their existence would have been wholly alien to earlier generations of Zionist thinkers who, while giving all due deference to traditional religious practices, were profoundly secular in outlook and would have regarded with abhorrence the intrusion of religion into politics. If the lack of governmental planning in advance of the “ingathering of the exiles” in the 1950s was a serious mistake, the failure of the State of Israel in those years to adopt a written constitution that provided for a division between religion and state was another.
This new manifestation of right-wing nationalism is not, as Herzl’s Zionism had been, a product of the Enlightenment; it is not connected with the struggle for political liberty and a free society. It fears alien influences, is antagonistic to strangers, and does not count individual freedom among its primary concerns. As one of the ideologues of this new creed put it, “This Zionism does not seek to solve the problem of the Jews by setting up a Jewish state, but it is an instrument in the hands of the Almighty which prepared the people of Israel for their Redemption.” Pre-state Zionism had not been based on religious zealotry and chauvinism. And even the religious Zionism of that era had stressed the international, universal message of Torah and redemption, rather than national egotism. To the Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, a nationalist in the liberal nineteenth-century mold, the anti-Western, isolationist character of today’s right-wing Zionism would have been incomprehensible and repugnant.
What caused such changes to the character of post-independence Zionism? Probably it was the
annus mirabilis
of 1967, which culminated in a nationwide abandonment of a sense of reality regarding the newly acquired land. The rise of worldwide fundamentalism might also have played a part, as well as a decline in the quality of national leadership. Pre-state Zionism had attracted formidable intellects and visionary leaders. In recent decades there has been a notable decline in the quality of national leadership; those who could and should have been leaders were put off by the rough-and-tumble of Israeli politics and looked instead for fulfillment in other fields of endeavor. Such a decline in the quality of leadership has taken place in countries throughout the world. But a newly created and embattled country such as Israel, a country by no means universally accepted, needs an enlightened and farsighted leadership more than any other.
And as if this were not enough, post-independence Zionism has been afflicted by two other plagues, essentially not new but appearing in new guises. One is the ultra-Orthodox, or
, camp, which in Eastern Europe had rejected and fought Zionism tooth and nail from the very beginnings of the movement. In Palestine, too, there had long been a small anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood and in a few other areas as well, which kept strictly apart from the Jewish community and its organizations. But since 1948 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods have greatly expanded (due in part to the high birth rate in ultra-Orthodox families). The numbers of adult men attending yeshivot (religious seminaries) has increased dramatically between 1948 and the present day. All this would have mattered little if, as in the pre-state days, the
would have essentially kept to themselves. But they have instead become increasingly involved in the Israeli government and have used their increased numbers to compel the state to support their institutions and to finance their way of life. (They refuse to serve in the army and many of them are not gainfully employed.) In recent years they have begun to impose their religious restrictions on the rest of the Israeli population, causing bitter conflicts and something akin to a
in Jerusalem and in other cities.
BOOK: A History of Zionism
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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