Written by Vladimir Moss



     “In the second half of the nineteenth century,” writes Peter Mansfield, “there was a steady movement of Jews from eastern Europe to settle in Palestine. Supported by Jewish [especially Rothschild] philanthropy, they went mainly to found colonies to work the land. They were the pioneers of ‘practical Zionism’. They were very much fewer than those who went to western Europe and the United States, but by 1914 there were about 80,000 Jews (including the indigenous communities) in Palestine, compared with about 650,000 Arabs.


     “’Political Zionism’, or the concept of turning Palestine into a national Jewish state, was founded by Theodor Herzl…”[1]


     Herzl, writes Daniel Barenboim, was a successful Austrian journalist who, "confronted by the increasing anti-Semitism in Austria and France, was initially in favor of complete assimilation of the Jews. Interestingly, Herzl's choice of words was not fundamentally different from that of Wagner's in describing the situation of Jews in German society. In 1893 he wrote that 'to cure the evil' the Jews would have to 'rid themselves of the peculiarities for which they are rightly reproached.' One would have to 'baptize the Jewboys' in order to spare them excessively difficult lives. 'Untertauchen im Volk!': go underground amongst the people was his appeal to the Jewish population. Richard Wagner also spoke of the 'Untergang,' the sinking: 'consider that only one thing can be the deliverance from the curse that weighs on you: the deliverance of Ahasuerus -- sinking! (der Untergang)'. Wagner's conclusion about the Jewish problem was not only verbally similar to Herzl's; both Wagner and Herzl favored the emigration of the German Jews. It was Herzl's preoccupation with European anti-Semitism that spurred him on to try and found a Jewish state. His vision of a Jewish state was influenced by the tradition of European liberalism. In the novel Altneuland (1903), he describes what the settled Jewish community in Palestine might look like; Arabic residents and other non-Jews would have equal political rights."[2]


     Herzl had witnessed the unjust degradation of the French Jewish officer Dreyfus, which had created an enormous sensation in France and which made an enormous impact on him personally. Less than six months later, he had completed the draft of the book which would set in motion modern Zionism, Der Judenstaat.[3] The affair demonstrated to Herzl that for various reasons - envy at Jewish success, the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, the increase of racialist theories - the Jews would never be assimilated into the existing system of European statehood, and would have to seek a homeland, a territorial State, of their own if they were to survive. "It was against this threatening background that Herzl began to abandon his assimilationist position. He had previously considered all kinds of wild ideas to get the Jews accepted. One was a huge programme of social re-education for Jews, to endow them with what he termed 'a delicate, extremely sensitive feeling for honour and the like'. Another was a pact with the Pope, whereby he would lead a campaign against anti-Semitism in return for 'a great mass movement for the free and honourable conversion of all Jews to Christianity'. But all these schemes soon seemed hopeless in face of the relentless rise of anti-Semitic hatred...”[4]

     In 1895 the anti-Semite Karl Lueger became Mayor of Vienna. Now Vienna at this time was the locus of an extraordinary flourishing of German Jewish culture. “Perhaps it is not wholly surprising,” writes Niall Ferguson, “that a disproportionate number of the principal contributors to… the extraordinary ferment of new ideas which ushered in the new century – were Jews or the children of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. The physics of Albert Einstein, the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, the poetry of Hugo von Hofmabbstal, the novels of Franz Kafka, the short stories of Joseph Kraus, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, the plays of Arthur Schnitzler, even the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein – all owed a debt, not so much to Judaism as a faith, as to the specific milieu of a highly numerate and literate but rapidly assimilating ethnic minority permitted by the times and circumstances to give reign to their thoughts, but also aware of the fragility of their own individual and collective predicament. Each in his different way was a beneficiary of the fin-de-siècle combination of global integration and the dissolution of confessional barriers…”[5]


     However, Lueger launched into a ferocious invective against this efflorescence of Jewish culture and its bearers. He “once referred to the Jews as ‘beasts of prey in human form’, said that ‘wolves, leopards and tigers were closer to humans than Jews, and agreed that a good solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ would be to put them all on a big ship and sink them at sea.”[6] In view of this invective, it is not surprising that Herzl was alarmed and feared the impact Lueger might have (a certain Adolf Hitler came to Vienna in 1908, while Lueger was still Mayor). He was therefore determined, as Johnson writes, “to devise an alternative refuge for the Jews, who might soon be expelled from all over Europe, seemed an urgent necessity. The Jews must have a country of their own!


     "Herzl completed the text of his book, Der Judenstaat, outlining his aims, in the winter of 1895-6. The first extracts were published in the London Jewish Chronicle, 17 January 1896. The book was not long, eighty-six pages, and its appeal was simple. 'We are a people, one people. We have everywhere tried honestly to integrate with the national communities surrounding us and to retain only our faith. We are not permitted to do so... In vain do we exert ourselves to increase the glory of our fatherlands by achievements in art and in science and their wealth by our contributions to commerce... We are denounced as strangers... If only they would leave us in peace... But I do not think they will...' So Herzl proposed that sovereignty be conceded to the Jews over a tract of land large enough to accommodate their people. It did not matter where. It could be in Argentina, where the millionaire Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831-96) had set up 6,000 Jews in a series of agricultural colonies. Or it could be Palestine, where similar Rothschild-financed colonies were in being. What mattered was the sanction of Jewish opinion; and they would take what was offered...


     "Herzl began by assuming that a Jewish state would be created in the way things had always been done throughout the Exile; by wealthy Jews at the top deciding what was the best solution for the rest of Jewry, and imposing it. But he found this impossible. Everywhere in civilized Europe the Jewish establishments were against his idea. Orthodox rabbis denounced or ignored him...


    "Nevertheless, what Herzl quickly discovered was that the dynamic of Judaism would not come from the westernised elites but from the poor, huddled masses of the Ostjuden, a people of whom he knew nothing when he began his campaign. He discovered this first when he addressed an audience of poor Jews, of refugee stock, in the East End of London. They called him 'the man of the little people', and 'As I sat on the platform... I experienced strange sensations. I saw and heard my legend being born.' In Eastern Europe, he quickly became a myth-like figure among the poor. David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) recalled that, as a ten-year-old boy in Russian Poland, he heard a rumour: 'The Messiah had arrived, a tall, handsome man, a learned man of Vienna, a doctor no less.'[7] Unlike the sophisticated middle-class Jews of the West, the eastern Jews could not toy with alternatives, and see themselves as Russians, or even as Poles. They knew they were Jews and nothing but Jews... and what Herzl now seemed to be offering was their only chance of becoming a real citizen anywhere. To Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), then a second-year student in Berlin, Herzl's proposals 'came like a bolt from the blue'. In Sofia, the Chief Rabbi actually proclaimed him the Messiah. As the news got around, Herzl found himself visited by shabby, excitable Jews from distant parts, to the dismay of his fashionable wife, who grew to detest the very word Zionism. Yet these were the men who became the foot soldiers, indeed the NCOs and officers, in the Zionist legion; Herzl called them his 'army of schnorrers'."[8]




     For the Ostjuden, the most important fact was the pogroms they suffered from the Russian peasants especially of the South-West of Russia.     Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes: “Jewish pogroms were stirred up at all times and only in the South-West of Russia (as also was the case in 1881).”[9] And on April 6, 1903 – the last day of the Jewish Pascha and the first day of the Orthodox Pascha – a pogrom broke out in Kishinev, capital of the province of Moldavia in South-West Russia. According to the official figures drawn up in the indictment by the procurator of the local court, V.N. Goremykin, it began with “the usual clashes between Jews and Christians which have always taken place in recent years at Pascha” and with “the hostility of the local Christian population towards the Jews”. And then “two weeks before Pascha… rumours began to circulate in Kishinev that there would be a slaughter of Jews in the forthcoming feast”.


     A particularly inflammatory role was played here by the newspaper Bessarabets, whose editor, Pavolachi Krushevan, also published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols purported to be the minutes of a meeting of Jewish elders somewhere in the West plotting to take over the world. In fact, they were largely plagiarized from Maurice Joly’s Dialogue aux Enfers entre Montesquieu et Machiavel, a debate between a supporter of liberalism (Montesquieu) and a supporter of despotism (Machiavel), published in 1864 in France, supplemented with a lot of anti-Semitic material. They were created in Paris and brought to Russia in about 1894, probably with the help of the Okhrana chief in Paris, Rachkovsky.


     When the forgery was demonstrated to Tsar Nicholas II, he said: “Drop the Protocols. One cannot defend a pure cause by dirty methods.”[10] Unfortunately, the Tsar’s advice was not followed, and the forgery became accepted as genuine by very many in many countries. It became popular especially during the Russian Civil War, and White Russian officers were instrumental in taking it to Germany, where it made a profound impression on Hitler.[11]


     Krushevan’s Bessarabets printed “from day to day sharp articles of an anti-Jewish tendency, which did not fail to leave a trace… among the salesmen and petty scribes, etc. of the uneducated people of Bessarabia. The latest provocative articles of Bessarabets contained communications about the murder in Dubossary of a Christian child supposedly carried out by Jews by ritual means…”[12]


     The pogrom began after the murder of a Russian man and the death of a Russian girl in the local Jewish hospital.[13] According to the indictment, 42 people were killed, including 38 Jews, and about 500 Jewish shop fronts were destroyed. By April 9, 816 people had been arrested, of whom 664 were charged with crimes.


     “The conclusion of the indictment was: the disorders ‘grew to the indicated proportions only thanks to the incompetence of the police, who did not have the required leadership… The preliminary investigation has not unearthed any evidence that would indicate that the above-mentioned disorders were prepared beforehand.’


     “And they were not unearthed by any subsequent investigation.


     “But in spite of this, the Jewish ‘Bureau of Defence’ (with the participation of the very influential M. Vinaver, G. Sliozberg, L. Bramson, M. Kulisher, A. Braudo, S. Pozner and M. Krol), had no sooner heard about the pogrom in Petersburg than they excluded from the beginning any other causes of it than a tsarist plot: ‘Who gave the order for the organization of the pogrom, who directed the dark forces that carried it out?’ – ‘Immediately we learned under what circumstances the Kishinev slaughter took place, it became clear for us that this diabolic undertaking would never have taken place… if it had not been thought up in the Department of Police and carried out in fulfilment of orders from there’. Although, of course, writes the same M. Krol in the 40s of the 20th century, ‘the scoundrels organized the Kishinev pogrom in strict secrecy, we are profoundly convinced that the Kishinev slaughter was organized from above, with the knowledge, and perhaps even on the initiative of Plehve. Only if we had the most indisputable evidence against them could we tear the mask from these highly-placed murderers and place them in a fitting light before the whole world. Therefore we decided to send the well-known lawyer Zarudny to Kishinev.’ ‘He was the most suitable person to carry out the mission that we had laid on him’, he ‘took it upon himself to discover the hidden springs of the Kishinev slaughter’, after which the police ‘to make a diversion arrested some tens of robbers and thieves’. (Let us recall that on the day after the pogrom 816 were arrested.) – Zarudny collected and took away from Kishinev ‘exceptionally important material’, that is to say: ‘that the main culprit and organizer of the pogrom was the chief of the Kishinev garrison Levendal’“.[14]


     This “exceptionally important material” was never published anywhere. Goremykin looked into the accusations against Levendal and found them baseless. But Krushevan, whose inflammatory articles had indeed helped the pogrom on arriving in Petersburg two months later, was attacked and wounded with a knife by Pinkhas Dashevsky… The government sacked the governor of Bessarabia, while Plehve issued a circular to all governors, city bosses and heads of police expressing disturbance at the inactivity of the Kishinev authorities and calling for decisive action to cut of violence.


     Nor was the Orthodox Church silent. The Holy Synod issued a circular ordering the clergy to take measures to root out hatred of the Jews. Fr. John of Kronstadt said: “Instead of a Christian feast they have arranged a disgustingly murderous feast to Satan.” And Bishop Anthony (Khrapovitsky) said: “The terrible punishment of God will attain those evil-doers who shed blood asking for that of the God-man, His Most Pure Mother, the Apostles and Prophets’; ‘that they should know that the Jewish race, which has been rejected up to now, is dear to the Spirit of God, and that every one who would want to offend it will anger the Lord.’”[15]


     The Jews and radicals inside Russia, and the European and American press outside Russia, were loud in their accusations that the Russian government was responsible for the Kishinev pogrom. The newspaper magnate William Hurst even used the fateful word “holocaust”…[16] On May 18 The Times of London published a letter of a “completely secret letter” of Plehve to the Kishinev governor von Raaben in which Plehve supposedly asked the governor not to put down any disturbances against the Jews but only to inform him about them.[17] The letter turned out to be a forgery, as even pro-Semite sources accept.[18] However, this did not prevent the 1996 edition of The Jewish Encyclopaedia from reiterating the accusation as if it were fact...[19]




     In spite of the importance of the Ostjuden, the Zionist movement remained, as Bernard Simms notes, “not only secular but very much German in character and orientation. Herzl himself was a fervent admirer of Bismarck, German was the working language of the Zionist movement, and Berlin soon became the informal capital of the World Zionist Executive. Zionists did not expect to be able to achieve their state on their own: they would need a great-power sponsor, and Herzl expected and hoped that that would be what he regarded as the most progressive polity in late-nineteenth-century Europe, Imperial Germany. ‘The character of the Jewish people,’ Herzl wrote, ‘can only become healthier under the protectorate of the great, powerful, moral Germany, with its practical administration and strict organization. Zionism will enable the Jews once more to love Germany, to which, despite everything, our hearts belong. ‘We owe it to the German in us that we are Jews again,’ the German Zionist Moses Calvary wrote. ‘Here,’ Calvary concluded, ‘is the living proof of the extent of Germany’s nurturing of our own creative being: political Zionism is Europe’s gift to Judaism.’”[20]


     However, Herzl was quick to change his orientation from the West European Jews to the Ostjuden, who were much more interested in Zionism. Thus he paid heed to the Russian Jewish doctor Lev Pinsker’s Autoemancipation (1882), which appealed to Russian and German Jewry to abandon, in view of the pogroms of the previous year, the failed idea of emancipation and the last gleams of hope in the brotherhood of peoples. "For the living," he wrote, "the Jew is a dead man; for the natives, an alien and a vagrant; for property holders, a beggar; for the poor, an exploiter and a millionaire; for the patriot, a man without a country; for all classes a hated rival."


     Another important East European Zionist was Usher Ginzberg, or Ahad-Gaam ("one of the people"). Solzhenitsyn writes: "He sharply criticised practical Palestinophilia as it then was. His position was: 'Before directing our efforts at "redemption on the land", it is necessary to care about "redemption of hearts", about the intellectual and moral perfection of the people'. 'To place in the centre of Jewry a living spiritual striving for the unification of the nation, its stirring up and free development in the national spirit, but on pan-human foundations'. This point of view later received the name of 'spiritual Zionism' (but not 'religious', this is important).


     "In the same 1889 Ahad-Gaam, for the unification of those who were devoted to the redemption of Jewish national feelings, created a league - or order, as he called it, 'Bnei Moshe' ('the Sons of Moses'). Its constitution 'was in many ways like the constitutions of Masonic lodges: the entrant gave a promise on oath to fulfill exactly all the demands of the constitution; new members were initiated by a master, an 'elder brother'... The entering 'brother' bound himself selflessly to serve the idea of national redemption, even if he were sure that there was no hope for the speedy realization of the ideal'. In the manifesto of the order it was proclaimed that 'the national consciousness has primacy over religious [consciousness], and individual interests are subject to national [interests]', and it was demanded that he deepen his feeling of selfless love for Jewry above every other aim of the movement. The order prepared 'the ground for the reception of the political Zionism' of Herzl, which Ahad-Gaam did not want at all.


     "In 1891, 1893 and 1900 Ahad-Gaam also travelled to Palestine - and reproached the lack of organization and rootlessness of the Palestinian colonization of that time, 'he subjected to severe criticism the dictatorial behaviour of those serving Baron' E. Rothschild.


     "Thus in Europe Zionism was born a decade later than in Russia...


     "At the first Congress the representatives of Russian Zionism 'constituted a third of the participants... 66 out of 197 delegates' - in spite of the fact that for some this might look like an oppositional move in relation to the Russian government... In this way 'Zionism drew its strength... from the circles of oppressed Eastern Jewry, which found only a limited support amongst the Jews of Western Europe'. But for this reason the Russian Zionists represented for Herzl the most serious opposition. Ahad-Gaam conducted a stubborn struggle with the political Zionism of Herzl (on whose side, however, there rose the majority of the old Palestinophiles). He sharply criticised the pragmatism of Herzl and Nordau and, as he thought, '[their] alienation from the spiritual values of Jewish culture and tradition'. He 'found political Zionism's hope of founding a Jewish autonomous State in the near future chimerical; he considered the whole of this movement to be exceptionally harmful for the work of the spiritual regeneration of the nation... Not to care about saving perishing Judaism, that is, not to care about spiritual-national and cultural-historical attainments, to strive not for the regeneration of the ancient people, but for the creation of a new one from the scattered particles of the old matter'. He used and even emphasized the word 'Judaism', but evidently not in a religious sense, but as an inherited spiritual system...


     "The quarrels shook the Zionists. Ahad-Gaam sharply criticized Herzl, and in support of the latter Nordau accused Ahad-Gaam of 'secret Zionism'. Every year there took place Zionist World Congresses, and in 1902 there took place a Congress of Russian Zionists in Minsk, whither the quarrels crossed over…


     "At the beginning of the century the poet N. Minsky expressed the following thought: 'that Zionism is the loss of the pan-human measure, that it reduces the universal cosmopolitan dimensions of Jewry [!] to the level of ordinary nationalism. 'The Zionists, while talking about nationalism, in fact turn away from the genuine national face of Jewry and are zealous only that they should be like everyone, and become no worse than others.'


     "It is interesting to compare this with the remark of the Orthodox [Christian] thinker S. Bulgakov, which was also made before the revolution: 'The greatest difficulty for Zionism consists now in the fact that it is not able to return the faith of the fathers that is being lost, and is forced to base itself on the national or cultural-ethnographic principle, on which no truly great nationality can establish itself.'"[21]


     So Herzl had considerable opposition from within Jewry: most assimilated Jews, the Jews who already had their own plans for Jewry in Palestine (like Baron Edmund Rothschild) and the religious Jews who rejected the idea of a secular Jewish nationalism, were against Zionism. However, he found unexpected support from some Gentile leaders, who were in favour of Zionism as a means of reducing the Jewish population of Europe.


     Thus the Russian interior minister, V.K. Plehve, said to him in August, 1903: "You are preaching to a convert.., we would very much like to see the creation of an independent Jewish State capable of absorbing several million Jews."[22] However, little came of his promise because in July, 1904 Herzl died and Plehve himself was assassinated by the Social Revolutionaries.


     Again, the Kaiser said: "I am all in favour of the kikes going to Palestine. The sooner they take off the better…"[23]


     Herzl even had support from Gentile Christians. "In fact," writes Walter Russell Mead, "American Protestant Zionism is significantly older than the modern Jewish version; in the nineteenth century, evangelicals repeatedly petitioned U.S. officials to establish a refuge in the Holy Land for persecuted Jews from Europe and the Ottoman Empire.


     "U.S. evangelical theology takes a unique view of the role of the Jewish people in the modern world. On the one hand, evangelicals share the widespread Christian view that Christians represent the new and true children of Israel, inheritors of God's promises to the ancient Hebrews. Yet unlike many other Christians, evangelicals also believe that the Jewish people have a continuing role in God's plan. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, close study of biblical prophecies convinced evangelical scholars and believers that the Jews would return to the Holy Land before the triumphant return of Christ."[24]


     However, more important than the Americans at this stage were the British, who, as Karen Armstrong writes, had "developed a form of gentile Zionism. Their reading of the Bible convinced them that Palestine belonged to the Jews, and already in the 1870s sober British observers looked forward to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine under the protection of Great Britain."[25] Thus, as Geoffrey Hanks writes, "Herzl was actively assisted by an Anglican clergyman, William Hechler, whose motivation was quite different to that of Herzl. For Hechler, his reading of prophecy had led him to conclude that the Jews would be returned to their homeland which would be followed by the Second Coming. After reading Herzl's book, The Jewish State, he joined forces with the author to promote the Zionist cause by persuading the Sultan of Turkey to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine. He was able to arrange a meeting in 1898 between Herzl and the Kaiser in Jerusalem. When he failed to secure German support for the cause he next looked to England for help, which came in the form of the Balfour Declaration [of 1917]."[26]


     In exchange for their supporting the Zionist project, Herzl usually offered the Great Powers “all kinds of monetary advantages, from a university to long-term credits”. Typical was his approach to the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid. But the Sultan replied: “I cannot agree to vivisection… my people fought for this land and fertilized it with their blood… let the Jews keep their millions…”[27]


     But it was in Britain that the Zionists “could act most freely and where, according to Herzl, there was least anti-Semitism”.[28] As Paul Johnson writes, "Herzl rightly called it 'the Archimedean point' on which to rest the lever of Zionism. There was considerable goodwill among the political elite. A lot had read Tancred; even more Daniel Deronda. Moreover, there had been a vast influx of Russian Jewish refugees into Britain, raising fears of anti-Semitism and threats of immigrant quotas. A Royal Commission on Alien Immigration was appointed (1902), with Lord Rothschild one of its members. Herzl was asked to give evidence, and Rothschild now at last agreed to see him, privately, a few days before, to ensure Herzl said nothing which would strengthen the cry for Jewish refugees to be refused entry. Rothschild's change from active hostility to friendly neutrality was an important victory for Herzl and he was happy, in exchange, to tell the Commission (7 July 1902) that further Jewish immigration to Britain should be accepted but that the ultimate solution to the refugee problem was 'the recognition of the Jews as a people and the finding by them of a legally recognized home'.


     "This appearance brought Herzl into contact with senior members of the government, especially Joe Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, and the Marquess of Lansdowne, Foreign Secretary. Both were favourable to a Jewish home in principle. But where? Cyprus was discussed, then El Arish on the Egyptian border. Herzl thought it could be 'a rallying-point for the Jewish people in the vicinity of Palestine' and he wrote a paper for the British cabinet bringing up, for the first time, a powerful if dangerous argument: 'At one stroke England will get ten million secret but loyal subjects active in all walks of life all over the world.' But the Egyptians objected and a survey proved unsatisfactory. Then Chamberlain, back from East Africa, had a new idea, Uganda. 'When I saw it,' he said, 'I thought, "That is a land for Dr. Herzl. But of course he is sentimental and wants to go to Palestine or thereabouts.' In fact Herzl would have settled for Uganda. So Lansdowne produced a letter: 'If a site can be found which the [Jewish Colonial] Trust and His Majesty's Commission consider suitable and which commends itself to HM Government, Lord Lansdowne will be prepared to entertain favourable proposals for the establishment of a Jewish colony of settlement, on conditions which will enable the members to observe their national customs.' This was a breakthrough. It amounted to diplomatic recognition for a proto-Zionist state. In a shrewd move, Herzl aroused the interest of the rising young Liberal politician, David Lloyd George, by getting his firm of solicitors to draft a proposed charter for the colony. He read Lansdowne's letter to the Sixth Zionist Congress, where it aroused 'amazement [at] the magnanimity of the British offer'. But many delegates saw it as a betrayal of Zionism; the Russians walked out. Herzl concluded: 'Palestine is the only land where our people can come to rest.' At the Seventh Congress (1905), Uganda was formally rejected.”[29]


     At the Sixth Congress Herzl had been forced to stand before the delegates, raise his right hand and quote the words of the psalmist: 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither!'[30] But to outsiders the Zionists asked only for: “not a Jewish state, but a home in the ancient land of our forefathers where we can live a Jewish life without oppression of persecution”. And to critics they said: “Only those suffering from gross ignorance or actuated by malice could accuse us of a desire of establishing an independent Jewish Kingdom.”[31]


     After Herzl’s death in 1904, the leadership of the Zionist movement passed to Chaim Weizmann, who, as Johnson writes, “was just as skilful as Herzl in handling world statesmen but in addition he could speak for the Ostjuden rank and file – he was one”[32] “He was born,” writes A.N. Wilson, “in a ghetto, in poverty, in southern Russia in 1874 at a time when Zionism was little more than a dream, when spoken Hebrew was unknown outside rarified rabbinic circles, and when Judaea was part of the Ottoman Empire, an under-populated, picturesque but decayed region. When he died in 1952 in Rehevot, he was the president of the state of Israel. He had been the key figure in bringing that state into being.


     “He came to England from Russia – via Switzerland – becoming a demonstrator in chemistry at Victoria University, Manchester, in 1904. Winston Churchill, electioneering in Oldham, approached the Jewish leaders in Manchester, hoping for their support of the Liberal party. On the eve of the 1906 election, Weizmann met the Tory Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, and they had the conversation which passed into legend.


     “Weizmann was concerned that many British assimilated Jews were extremely dubious about the Zionist idea.


     “‘I began to sweat blood to make my meaning clear through my English. At the very end I made an effort, I had an idea. I said, “Mr. Balfour, if you were offered Paris instead of London, would you take it?” He looked surprised, “But London is our own!” He leaned back, continued to stare at me, and said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: “Are there many Jews who think like you?” I answered, “I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves, but with whom I could pave the streets of the country I come from.” To this he said, “If this is so, you will one day be a force.” Shortly before I withdrew, Balfour said, “It is curious. The Jews I meet are quite different.” I answered: “Mr. Balfour, you meet the wrong kind of Jews.”’


     “It was Weizmann’s conviction that ‘England will understand the Zionists better than anyone else.’ The models used by Weizmann, who was neither a prophet like Herzl, not an historian, but a chemist, were, consciously or not, anachronistically contemporary. In seeking to ‘recreate’ the ancient homeland of the Jews, it was no accident that he found that England understood the idea ‘better than anyone else. Although the Ugandan proposal was ditched, Weizmann went on thinking of the new country as a colony on the British model. Soon after Turkey entered the First World War, he wrote:


     “’Don’t you think that the chance for the Jewish people is now within the limits of a discussion at least?... Should Palestine fall within the sphere of British influence and should Britain encourage a Jewish settlement there as a British dependency, we could have in 25-30 years about a million Jews out there, perhaps more; they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it.’


     “In just the same way, Europeans appropriating African or Asian or South American territory considered themselves to be thereby bringing ‘civilization’. Though he was always careful in his public utterances to express his respect for the rights of the indigenous population of Palestine – ‘There is an Arab nation with a glorious past’ – he was candidly colonialist in his language. He spoke of the Jewish settlers as ‘colonialists’ following his first visit to Palestine in 1907, the Arabs were ‘primitive people’. The Jewish incomers would be ‘bearers of the torch and the preparers of civilization’. It is true that as his thinking developed Weizmann categorically stated and patently wished that ‘600,000 Arabs have just as much right to their life in Palestine as we have to our National Home’. It was an optimistic expectation. Like the British in India, the Zionists of Weizmann’s generation could not entirely shake off the sense that when a European man set foot on non-European soil he did so as the superior of the native population. He came to conquer and to improve. In his more unguarded moments he suggested, in his thinking about the settlement of Palestine, that the fate of ‘several hundred thousand negroes’ was ‘a matter of no consequence’. Just as the British in South Africa could dehumanize the Indians by referring to the as coolies, so Weizmann could see the indigenous population of the Middle East as negroes…”[33]


     Even with the Zionist movement formally committed to Palestine as its only possible homeland, there was still strong opposition to the idea from within Jewry. Religious opposition to secular Zionism was already present in the nineteenth century in the works of Samuel Hirsch and "the Forerunners of Zionism" - the Serbian Rabbi Alkalai and the Polish Rabbi Kalischer. Now the Orthodox, writes Johnson, "argued that Satan, having despaired of seducing Israel by persecution, had been given permission to try it by even more subtle methods, involving the Holy Land in his wicked and idolatrous scheme, as well as all the evils of the enlightenment. Zionism was thus infinitely worse than a false messiah - it was an entire false, Satanic religion. Others added that the secular state would conjure up the godless spirit of the demos and was contrary to God's command to Moses to follow the path of oligarchy: 'Go and collect the elders of Israel'; 'Heaven forbid', wrote two Kovno sages, 'that the masses and the women should chatter about meetings or opinions concerning the general needs of the public.' In Katowice on 22 May 1912 the Orthodox sages founded the Agudist movement to coordinate opposition to Zionist claims. It is true that some Orthodox Jews believed Zionism could be exploited for religious purposes. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) argued that the new 'national spirit of Israel' could be used to appeal to Jews on patriotic grounds to observe and preach the Torah. With Zionist support he was eventually made Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. But most of the religious Jews already in Eretz Israel heard of Zionism with horror. 'There is great dismay in the Holy Land,' wrote Rabbi Joseph Hayyim Sonnenfeld (1848-1932), 'that these evil men who deny the Unique One of the world and his Holy Torah have proclaimed with so much publicity that it is in their power to hasten redemption for the people of Israel and gather the dispersed from all the ends of the earth.' When Herzl entered the Holy Land, he added, 'evil entered with him, and we do not yet know what we have to do against the destroyers of the totality of Israel, may the Lord have mercy'. This wide, though by no means universal opposition of pious Jews to the Zionist programme inevitably tended to push it more firmly into the hands of the secular radicals…”[34]


     But the reverse process was also seen: the conversion of secular radicals to an almost mystical love of the land of Israel, a factor that makes Zionism more than just a form of secular nationalism. For, as Karen Armstrong writes, "Jerusalem was still a symbol that had power to inspire these secular Zionists as they struggled to create a new world, even if they had little time for the city as an earthly reality. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would become the second President of the State of Israel, was converted to Zionism while speaking at a revolutionary rally in Russia. Suddenly he felt dissociated from his surroundings and in the wrong place. 'Why am I here and not there?' he asked himself. Then he had a vision. There arose 'in my mind's eye the living image of Jerusalem, the holy city, with its ruins, desolate of its sons'. From that moment he thought no more of revolution in Russia but only of 'our Jerusalem'. 'That very hour I reached the absolute decision that our place is the Land of Israel, and that I must go there, dedicate my life to its upbuilding, and as soon as possible.'…


     "The trouble was that Jerusalem was not 'desolate of its sons'. It already had sons, a people who had lived there for centuries and who had their own plans for the city. Nor was the city a ruin, as Ben-Zvi imagined… [Moreover,] its Arab residents had come to resent the Turkish occupation and were alarmed by the Zionist settlers. In 1891 a number of Jerusalem notables sent a petition to Istanbul, asking the government to prevent a further immigration of Jews and the sale of land to Zionists. The last known political act of Yusuf al-Khalidi had been to write a letter to Rabbi Zadok Kahn,the friend of Herzl, begging him to leave Palestine alone: for centuries, Jews, Christians, and Muslims had managed to live together in Jerusalem, and this Zionist project would end such coexistence. After the Young Turk revolt in 1908, Arab nationalists of Palestine began to dream of a state of their own, free of Turkish control. When the first Arab Congress met in Paris in 1913, a telegram of support was signed by 387 Arabs from the Near East, 130 of them Palestinians. In 1915, Ben-Gurion became aware of these Arab aspirations for Palestine and found them profoundly disturbing. 'It hit me like a bomb,' he said later. 'I was utterly confounded.' Yet, the Israeli writer Amos Elon tells us, despite this bombshell, Ben-Gurion continued to ignore the existence of the Palestinian Arabs. Only two years later, he made the astonishing suggestion that in a 'historical and moral sense,' Palestine was a country 'without inhabitants.' Because the Jews felt at home there, all other inhabitants of the country were merely the ethnic descendants of various conquerors. Ben-Gurion wished the Arabs well as individuals but was convinced that they had no rights at all…"[35]


     And so most of the elements necessary for the creation of the most insoluble political problem of modern times were already in place: Jewish Zionism, the "Christian Zionism" of the Anglo-Saxon nations, and Arab nationalism. The chief difference, according to Johnson, between the Jewish and Arab nationalisms “was that they [the Arabs] started to organize themselves two decades later. Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, was part of the European nationalist movement, which was a nineteenth-century phenomenon. The Arabs, by contrast, were part of the Afro-Arab nationalism of the twentieth century…”[36]


     “The awakening of the Arab nation,” wrote Neguib Azoury in 1905, “and the growing Jewish efforts at rebuilding the ancient monarchy of Israel on a very large scale – these two movements are destined to fight each other continually, until one of them triumphs over the other…”[37]


     These were prescient words… Only one element was lacking (or rather: dormant) in this toxic mix: fundamentalist Islam. And yet this, too, was already present in embryo in Saudi Wahhabism, which dated to the eighteenth century; and in 1914 the Turkish sultan, following German suggestions, had proclaimed a religious war, or jihad, against Britain…


April 24 / May 7, 2020.


[1] Mansfield, A History of the Middle East, London: Penguin, 2003, p. 160.

[2] Barenboim,  "Wagner, Israel and the Palestinians",

[3]  Johnson, A History of the Jews, London: Pimlico, 1995, p. 380. As he admitted to the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in London in 1902: "Seven years ago, when I was living in Paris, I was so impressed with the state of Jewry throughout Europe that I turned my attention to the Jewish question and published a pamphlet which I called 'A Jewish State'. I may say that it was not my original intention to publish the pamphlet or to take part in a political movement. But, after placing before a number of influential Jews my views upon the Jewish question, and finding that they were utterly oblivious of the danger which I then foresaw - that they could not see the large black cloud gathering in the East - I published the pamphlet which resulted in the establishment of the Zionist movement." (David Vital, A People Apart: The Jews in Europe 1789-1939, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 439).

[4] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 395.

[5] Ferguson, The War of the World, London: Penguin, 2006, pp. 41-42.

[6] Simon Winder, Danubia, London: Picador, 2013, p. 408.

[7] When Herzl ascended the podium at the first Zionist conference, "he looked like 'a man of the House of David, risen all of a sudden from his grave in all his legendary glory,' recalled Mordechai Ben-Ami, the delegate from Odessa. ‘It seemed as if the dream cherished by our people for two thousand years had come true at last and Messiah the Son of David was standing before us.'" (Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem, London: HarperCollins, 1997, p. 365). (V.M.).

[8] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 396-397, 397-398, 398-399.

[9] Solzhenitsyn, Dvesti Let Vmeste, Moscow, 2001, p. 321.

[10] Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide, London: Serif, 1996, pp. 126, 285-289; Johnson, op. cit., p. 456.

[11] Hieromonk Tikhon Kazushin writes: “In late 90's it has been very nearly irrefutably shown by computer-aided linguistic analysis of the Protocols as having been written by a certain Matvey Golovinsky (1865-1920), born in Simbirsk gubernia, who was stylistically inspired by the popular book by Maurice Joly, the Dialogue, as very rightly mentioned by Vladimir, very probably having been commissioned to write it by Petr Rachkovsky, a high-ranked police officer in Russia.” (Facebook, May 7, 2020).

[12] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., p. 322.

[13] Montefiore, The Romanovs, London, 2016, pp. 510-511.

[14] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., pp. 327-328.

[15] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., p. 329.

[16] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., p. 332.

[17] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., p. 333.

[18] Vital, op. cit., p. 513.

[19] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., p. 335.

[20] Simms, Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, London: Allen Lane, 2013, pp. 264-265.

[21] Solzhenitsyn, op. cit., pp. 257-258, 260-261, 262, 263.

[22] According to Vital (op. cit., p. 468), Plehve's memorandum to Herzl was approved beforehand by the Tsar.

[23] In 1879 William Marr had written: "The Jewish idea of colonizing Palestine could be wholesome for both sides [Jews and Germans]".

[24] Mead, "God's Country?", Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2006, p. 39.

[25] Armstrong, op. cit., p. 360.

[26] Hanks, Great Events in the History of the Church, Tain, 2004, pp. 294, 295.

[27] Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection, New York: Dodd, Mead & co., 1987, p. 11.

[28] Mansfield, op. cit., p. 161.

[29] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 400-402.

[30] Armstrong, op. cit., p. 366.

[31] Lilienthal, op. cit., p. 13.

[32] Johnson, op. cit., p. 424.

[33] Wilson, After the Victorians, London: Hutchinson, 2005, pp. 103-104.

[34] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 403-404.

[35] Armstrong, op. cit., pp. 367-369. Ironically, in 1918, Ben Gurion and Ben-Zvi wrote a book entitled Eretz Israel, which argued, as Shlomo Sand writes, that “the population that survived [in Palestine] since the seventh century had originated from the Judean farming class that the Muslim conqueror had found when they reached the country” (The Invention of the Jewish People, London: Verso, 2009, p. 186). So the Muslim fellahin, or farming class of Palestine, were in fact Jewish by race!

[36] Johnson, op. cit., p. 434.

[37] Azour, in M.J. Cohen and John Major, History in Quotations, London: Cassell, 2004, p. 634.

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