“The Jews such as they are today are our work, the work of our 1,800 years of idiotic persecution.” (Emile Zola 1897)
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles” (Israel’s Declaration of Independence)
The Jewish Problem: To this point in our discussion the history of Jew and Judaism through our history dispersed in Christendom has described a clear trajectory: antisemitism is a self-perpetuating and unalterable reality embedded in the fabric of Christian religion and society and passed on to its successor secular states. Where previously pogroms were limited to local or regional Jewish communities, with the technological revolution in 20th century communications, computation and manufacturing the possibility of achieving a final solution to the West’s eternal Jewish Problem became an achievable reality.
Almost immediately following the “legal” emancipation of the Jews reaction set in. Pogroms in Russia intensified, spread to Germany. In France, home of the revolution and “cradle” parliament sought to deny, the reverse equality. Pinsker followed fifteen years later by Herzl, apparently independently, reached the same conclusion: so long as Jews remained in Christian society they would be at risk. Of course not even these prophets of Zionism could have foreseen just how dangerous the Diaspora is to Jewish survival. In the 19th century there was no historical precedent for one group to set the goal of exterminating another: who before the Holocaust could have even imagined that the “civilized” West was capable of mass murder, of solving its Jewish “problem” by attempting to murder each and every living Jew from aged to infant?
Is it easier today, the Holocaust barely seventy years past, for the Jewish People, in Diaspora and even Israel, to comprehend that the Final Solution intended to murder all Jews, everywhere? How is it that we have never accepted that, had Germany won the war which seemed very possible before 1941, that it is likely there would today be no Israel, no Jew to write a blog about Christianity’s Jewish Problem and its solution. That which Pinsker and Herzl concluded on much less evidence still fails to pass the walls of 21st century Jewish denial.
Dreyfus burned in effigy during antisemitic riots in Paris. (Wikipedia)
The Zionist response: Leon Pinsker, was a physician dedicated to assimilation. Relatively unknown today, his short 1882 volume, Auto-Emancipation, anticipating Herzl’s Der Judenstadt by a decade and a half, remains, in my eyes, the better description of antisemitism as historical process than the younger man. As with Herzl his language and use of categories reflects the 19th century and his medical background described antisemitism as a disease. Yet even a “disease” implies an etiology, an underlying historical process from the 1st to the 21st century and beyond. With our experience of a Holocaust even he and Herzl could never have anticipated Pinsker’s essay remains as relevant today, more so since it was hardly read during his lifetime, as when it was written. What follows is a brief introduction to this forgotten father of Zionism, an introduction to Zionism as the Jewish Solution to Christendom’s Jewish Problem:
“Judeophobia is a psychic aberration. As a psychic aberration it is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable.” (all emphases added)
Pinsker is intent on breaking through Jewish Denial, returns repeatedly to that forlorn Jewish faith in “education” as the instrument to change our tragic destiny:
“Prejudice or instinctive ill-will is not moved by rational argument, however forceful and clear.”
All the “education” in the world changes not one whit the status of Jews as “Other” living in a Christian world:
“Since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he remains an alien everywhere. That he himself and his ancestors as well are born in the country does not alter this fact in the least.”
Even in “normal” times “the Jew” is Other. America continues today to be described by its Christian majority “a Christian country.” But under economic and social stress antisemitism rises to the surface. This is clearly represented by, for example, polling taken from 1938 until well after the Holocaust. Antisemitism was reflected in America’s “closed door policy towards Jewish refugees” which trapped millions in Europe to gas and flame in Auschwitz.
It is against this backdrop, the place of Jews in history-inspired popular culture, antisemitic stereotypes, that we approach Pinsker:
“To the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner… to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country: for all a [feared and] hated rival… the prejudice of [Christendom] against us rests upon anthropological and social principles, innate and ineradicable... The time has come for a sober and dispassionate realization of our true position.”
And so Pinsker introduces the Zionist position, a solution by the Jewish people to Christendom’s unfolding and, at that time, unexpected final solution to its Jewish Problem:
“We must seek our… salvation not in self-deceptions, but in the restoration of our national ties… We must set vigorously to work to complete the great task of self-liberation.
Throughout Autoemancipation! Pinsker anticipates Herzl. Both were pragmatists, preferred Palestine for historical and sentimental reasons. But they were not opposed to an alternate site for Jewish refuge should Palestine not be achievable. Pinsker and Herzl both seriously considered Argentina, a state in the 19th century seeking immigration and, at the time even hospitable to Jews (a century later the Argentinean junta would arrest Jews; suspect a plot to take over Patagonia). Despairing of securing Palestine Herzl proposed prioritizing Uganda at the Sixth Zionist congress in 1903.
Neither Herzl nor Pinsker held out hope for a Jewish future in Christendom. According to Pinsker it is unrealistic to expect two-thousand years of anti-Jewish history to just disappear. In fact,
“our future will remain insecure and precarious unless a radical change in our position is made by the auto-emancipation of the Jewish people as a nation, the foundation of a community belonging to the Jews, which is some day to become our inalienable home, our country.
“Woe to our descendants, woe to the memory of our Jewish contemporaries, [shades of Auschwitz] if we let this moment pass by!”
“David Ben-Gurion proclaiming independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism” (Wikipedia)
Zionism and Israel: In the end British “Zionism” and imperial realpolitik combined to create conditions favorable to the Balfour Declaration, and Jewish immigration to the British “protectorate” was opened (but only so long as it served British interests).
While the inspiration for Political Zionism was secular (both Pinsker and Herzl) the movement represented the entire universe of Jewish identity from Orthodox to Reform to atheist; cultural to religious to nationalist! But the main ideological force behind the nuts and bolts creation of the state was socialist and secular. And from that wing emerged the David Ben-Gurion, “Israel’s founding father.”
"Suffering makes a people greater, and we have suffered much. We had a message to give the world, but we were overwhelmed, and the message was cut off in the middle. In time there will be millions of us - becoming stronger and stronger – and we will complete the message… the unity of the human race.”
Ben-Gurion, as leader of the Jewish Agency, was de-facto head of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in pre-independence Israel. He was also a primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence that defined Israel in the context of Zionism:
“In the year 5657 (1897), at the summons of the spiritual father of the Jewish State, Theodore Herzl, the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country.
“The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people — the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe — was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.
“THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles;
“WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream — the redemption of Israel.
The Declaration was written in the midst of the War for Independence. It appealed to the Arabs living in newly-independent Israel to remain and “enjoy full benefits of and participate in the building of the state.” To the Arab nations it pledged “a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” For a complex of reasons many Palestinians left to create its own diaspora and the relationship between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states remains, for the most part, unbridgeable.
Israel’s Basic Laws are a step towards a constitution for the state. The first Law, for example, defines the role of Knesset. And as the 33rd governing coalition was sworn in on 18 March, 2013 one issue to be discussed is a proposal for a new, Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. By its title, at least, it appears to reinforce Israel’s Zionist identity as did another Basic Law: the Law of Return passed in 1950. An Amendment clarifying the Zionist intent of the Law of Return, the Grandparent Clause providing refuge to the grandchild of a convert to Christianity would also be granted refuge. This amendment was intended a direct response to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws classifying as “Jew” a person with a single grandparent.
The pioneers and leaders of the pre-state Yishuv clearly intended a secular and democratic state to serve the entire Jewish People as home and refuge. Since Ben-Gurion’s 1947 invitation to two Orthodox parties to participate in the first Knesset there has been a struggle over Israel’s identity as “religious” or secular. In recent years even members of the “secular elite” have challenged the Law of Return as too liberal regarding Jewish identity. Our discussion will now turn to the identity of Israel: Jewish state, of State of the Jews.
Recent writings in this Series: