“Eliminate the diaspora or the diaspora will eliminate you!” (Ze’ev Jabotinsky
, Poland, 1937)
Jews were not always viewed as a “nation.” Modern Jewish nationhood only reemerged with the Enlightenment and Jewish reaction to the failure of the promise of emancipation. Emancipation, a logical extension of Liberté , etc, promised political equality and social acceptance and, had the Jews been accorded the political and social benefits received by the other “nations” then, as Herzl wrote
“We might perhaps be able to merge ourselves entirely into surrounding races, if these were to leave us in peace for a period of two generations. But they will not leave us in peace… We are one people--our enemies have made us one without our consent.”
This insight by Herzl is key to our understanding of the persistence of Christendom’s “Jewish Problem” and Zionism as response by the Jewish people. Had Christianity since the fourth century willed it, had the founding Church allowed for the mixing of Jews and Christians, not attacked Judaizing among Christians, the Jewish Problem likely would never have emerged. Likely, as Christianity needed Satan so also it needed “the Jews” toe establish boundaries and to maintain cohesion. But that is for another discussion. For the Jewish people Christian boundary maintenance meant centuries of demonization, persecution, the Holocaust and continuing threat. It also indicates how, in the 21st century with the evidence of the Holocaust a recent memory that American Jewry still we follow German Jewry in their pre-Holocaust quest to security through conversion and intermarriage. Had we just been left in peace over the centuries would there even have been a Jewish People to “emancipate in the 19th century,” to “exterminate” in the 20th?
Instead, with the promise of “acceptance” through the emancipation shattered by pogrom in Russia, antisemitic riots in Germany and France, hope turned to despair. And, for 19th century Zionists awareness grew that Christendom’s religion-based creation of the Jewish Problem was too deeply embedded in the in the West’s history and culture to vanish simply because “secularism” replaced “religion” as authority over society.
Jewish responses to Emancipation and continuing discrimination predated Zionism by decades. Two very different such efforts, are represented by Moses Mendelssohn, descended from a line of orthodox rabbis, and Karl Marx, son of a Lutheran convert, also the son of an orthodox rabbinical family. Mendelssohn’s Haskalah was an effort to ensure Jewish survival by modernizing Jewish practice, while Marx would “solve” the Jewish Problem by eliminating all social distinctions, whether based on class, nationality or religion. A third figure from this period, friend and collaborator of Marx, was Moses Hess who, perhaps more accurately than Marx or Mendelssohn, viewed the Jewish Problem more realistically as endemic to Christendom. Hess was originally an influence and collaborator with Marx in developing the theory of Dialectical Materialism. He soon after publication of Marx’s On the Jewish Question parted company over the portrayal of Jews in that volume.
Marx wrote On the Jewish Question
in 1843. Originally intended as a response to an opponent of Jewish emancipation, its tone and focus shifted during its composition. Rather than a defense of the Jews its real significance to the world was as his first effort to develop the theory of dialectical materialism. Marx characterization of “the Jew” drew on the ancient Christian stereotype: Jew as usurer. Although not necessarily antisemitic in intention, in the hands of lesser minds “the Jew” plugged into the ageless stereotype, Jew as sinister “Other.” Through Marx antisemitism became a political ploy for both left and right, before and after the Holocaust. And with the birth of a state of the Jews antisemitism included Israel and the movement whose creation it was, Zionism.
Moses Hess, perhaps the first truly “Zionist” thinker before Pinsker was, as were Pinsker and Herzl, an assimilated Jew. Following his break with Marx he abandoned Communism and turned to socialism, and later became an advocate for a Jewish return to Palestine. Through work on the soil he hoped to create a socialist proletarian state where all Jews would live as equals. His thought would later inspire Labor Zionism, the movement most credited with creating the foundation for Jewish independence.
“As long as the Jew endeavors to deny his nationality, while at the same time he is unable to deny his own individual existence, as long as he is unwilling to acknowledge that he belongs to that unfortunate and persecuted people, his false position must daily become more intolerable. Wherefore the illusion? The European nations have always considered the existence of the Jews in their midst as an anomaly. We shall always remain strangers among the nations.” (The Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question, Fifth Letter, 1862
The first sparks
of what would become a Zionist movement capable of turning Hess idealistic dream into a material reality came out of Russia-Poland in the late nineteenth century. In 1882 Leon Pinsker, an assimilated Russian physician wrote Autoemancipation
, a prescient work that anticipated the risk to Jewry in the twentieth century. That work, written fifty years before Germany voted the National Socialists into power may even today represent the most accurate diagnosis of the condition of Jews in Christendom; of the West’s Jewish problem and its cure.
Leon Pinsker (Wikipedia)
Pinsker’s preface is an impassioned Zionist challenge: Take responsibility for the fact that antisemitism is a permanent feature of the Christendom; accept that the obvious Jewish response to “the terror of bloody atrocities” is Jewish self-emancipation, the creation of a Jewish national homeland.
“After the terror
of the bloody atrocities [the pogroms] a moment of calm… the Western Jews have again learned to suffer the cry, "hep! hep!" [by anti-Jewish rioters, typically students, in Germany]… Shut your eyes and hide your head like an ostrich -- there is to be no lasting peace unless … you apply a remedy more thoroughgoing than those palliatives to which our hapless people have been turning for 2000 years.”
“But,” Pinsker continues, “the greatest impediment in the path of the Jews to an independent national existence is that [we] do not feel its need… deny its authenticity (my emphasis, see Jabotinsky, below).”
Pinsker was not a Marxist but a Zionist and his solution to the Jewish problem lay not in a larger social revolution but in internal revolution in Jewish understanding, the removal of the Jews from the threat of the Diaspora: “This change cannot be brought about by the civil emancipation of the Jews in this or that state, but only by… the foundation of … our inalienable home, our country.” Pinsker was a physician and he diagnosed Judeophobia a, “psychic aberration… [an incurable] disease transmitted for two thousand years… Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument [so much for the wish-fulfilling dream of Jewish leadership since the 19th century of educating Christendom away from persecution!], however forceful and clear.”
For several decades after the appearance of Autoemancipation young and idealistic Jews, inspired by Pinsker and prodded by pogrom, made their way to Palestine as individuals and in groups. Among the first were the Hoveivei Zion, the Lovers of Zion, who founded Rishon l’Zion, one of the first Jewish towns in Palestine. But enthusiasm alone was not enough to sustain immigration sufficient to create in a state, and another decade would pass before another, more charismatic and politically-savvy leader would appear.
Theodor Herzl in Basel, 1897 (Wikipedia)
Theodore Herzl, another assimilated Jew, was a Viennese playwright and journalist. In 1894 he was sent by his newspaper to Paris to cover the treason trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
mobs shouting “Death to the Jews” in France, the home of the French Revolution, and resolved that there was only one solution: the mass immigration of Jews to a land that they could call their own.”
Apparently unaware of Pinsker or Autoemancipation, Herzl came to the same conclusion regarding the risk to Jewish survival in the West. Antisemitism, he concluded, “was a stable and immutable factor in human [well, “Western”] society, which assimilation did not solve.” (my emphasis)
Recall that the events described above took place before the First World War, before National Socialism was voted into power in Germany and half a century before the West embarked on its final solution to it’s phantasmagorical Jewish “problem.” For the Jews, at least, the Holocaust was still beyond imagination. But some among the younger generation were already sensing the coming, if indefinable, disaster. Among them was Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Following Hitler’s electoral victory Jabotinsky crisscrossed Poland and Eastern Europe warning of the impending Final Solution. While few took the warning seriously, who beyond visionaries could imagine the unimanageable and unprecedented fate awaiting the Jews, Jabotinsky knew, read the signs clearly. On Tisha B’ Av of 1937, a traditional day of mourning on the Jewish calendar, and two years before Germany invaded Poland. A prophet accepting defeat, Jabotinsky exhorted the Jewish people to expunge themselves of the Diaspora or perish:
“It is already three years
that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry… warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer… [you] do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit all-consuming lava… In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is time, and there is very little… whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he of she will live to see the… the rise of a Jewish state.
“Eliminate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will eliminate you!”
Seventy years after Auschwitz the warning remains unheeded.
Previous articles in the series: