Political Zionism

by Albert T. Clay, 1 Feb 1921 – The Atlantic


“Those who are familiar with life in Palestine, where the feeling between Moslem and Christian and Jew is perhaps more intense than in any other land, are fully cognizant that this scheme for a Jewish state not only accentuates and increases the animosities that have always existed, but invites another tragic chapter in the history of the Hebrews.”


A TRAVELER returning from the Near East is at once struck by the utter Ignorance of Europeans and Americans concerning the true situation in Palestine — an ignorance due largely to the fact that in London there is, practically, only one of the important daily papers that will print anything detrimental to the schemes of the Political Zionists. Besides the English press the other sources of information upon which America has been dependent for its news of Palestine have been the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Zionist propaganda. The latter, with its harrowing stories of pogroms in Europe, and its misrepresentations of the situation in the Near East, has been able to awaken not a little sympathy for the Zionist programme. But there certainly are reasons why Americans should endeavor to realize fully what is happening in Syria, and this quite promptly.

In discussing the existing conditions in Palestine, and the serious problem that the League of Nations will very probably have to face, it is necessary to differentiate briefly between what have been called the three aspects of Zionism, namely, the religious, economic, and political aspects.

Religious Zionism is an expression used to represent the belief of orthodox Judaism that the Jews are the chosen people of the one and only God; that a Messiah will be sent to redeem Israel; and that Jehovah will gather his people, restore the Temple and its service, and reestablish the priesthood and the Jewish kingdom. For the restoration of their kingdom and the fulfillment of prophecy, they look to God in his own time and way, and not to Jewish financiers and politicians, or to peace conferences. Only a small group of orthodox Jews, ‘the Eastern,’ take an active part in the political movement to establish a Jewish state. Tolerance for the religious ideals of different faiths precludes any criticism or lack of respect for Religious Zionism. The Christian faith, it might be added, is, in certain respects at least, inseparably identified with some of its ideals.

Economic Zionism, so-called, has as its object the amelioration of the deplorable conditions in which Jews have lived in certain lands, where they have been outrageously persecuted, and in many Instances foully murdered. Since the governments concerned could not be induced to alleviate their sufferings, the Jews, in recent years, have been urged to emancipate themselves by seeking a new home, where they might live in security, and carry on their activities as free citizens. About fifty years ago organizations sprang up which encouraged colonization in Palestine. However, most Jews preferred to go to South and North America, with the result that some thousands went to Palestine and two millions moved westward. About forty colonies, some large and others containing only a few houses, have been established in Palestine, numbering about 13,000 souls. The entire Jewish population, including those who are indigenous, numbers 65,300. For comparison, it may be stated that there are also about 62,500 Christians and over a half million Moslems in the land. Economic Zionism is not a theory, nor is it an experiment. The Balfour declaration sanctions the movement; it reads: ‘His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The San Remo Conference has interpreted the Peace Treaty as implying this, and there is no alternative; moreover, the movement is already a substantial reality.

A visit to some of the better established Jewish colonies will not fail to awaken sympathy for Economic Zionism. No unbiased observer of past events could think of throwing obstacles in the way of those Jews who, being persecuted in certain lands, prefer to live in a community solely Jewish; or who, through historical sentiment, long to reside in a purely Jewish cultural community in the land of their ancestors. Only an extremist would deny the gratification of their desires to as many of these people as can be accommodated; yet it must be borne in mind that, as estimated by experts, the tiny country can support only about a million and a half additional inhabitants; which number, if all were Jews, would represent only one tenth of the fifteen millions in the world.


Political Zionism was launched by Herzl, in 1896, in a monograph on ‘The Jewish State’; and since that time this has become the dominant note in the whole movement. He and others have claimed that the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth would become an active force, by bringing diplomatic pressure to bear upon the nations, to secure protection for Jews in all lands. A clannish sense of pride in the Jewish race, however, seems to be uppermost in their minds. They apparently think that their status in society will be enhanced everywhere if a Jewish nation exists in Palestine. This phase of Zionism is the crux of the whole Palestine problem.

Political Zionism is strongly opposed by many orthodox Jews in Palestine; especially because they recognize that, through the fanaticism of the Zionist leaders, it has become most difficult for them to maintain their former amicable relations with the other natives. It is opposed also by many of the leading Jews throughout the world, especially, as the Political Zionists themselves admit, by the upper circles of Jewish society. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which has a membership of about three hundred, representing many of the largest and most important synagogues in America, has year after year discussed the problem; and while favoring the idea of the country’s being open to Jews who, because of religious persecution, desire to reside there, it denies that the Jews are ‘a people without a country’; and even refuses to ‘subscribe to the phrase in the [Balfour] declaration which says, “Palestine is to be the national homeland for the Jewish people.”

When we consider the feelings of the Jews who desire to spend their lives in study and meditation in Palestine and be buried there, we must not lose sight of the fact that the same impulse also draws, and has drawn, the Christian and the Moslem. It is the Holy Land for the three great religions. It is not the birthplace of Islam; yet Mohammed, who claimed to be the successor of a line of prophets from Abraham to Christ, would have made Jerusalem the center his religion if the Jews and Christians had recognized him as a prophet. As it is, Jerusalem is one of three most revered cities in Islam; moreover, the sites identified with Abraham, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and other Old Testament characters, are regarded with as much veneration by the Moslem as by the Jew.

One need only recall the immense and magnificent hospices built by the Eastern and the Western branches of the Christian Church, as well as the many monasteries, hospitals, homes, and schools, throughout the land, to reach some conception of what the country is to the Christian. The inhabitants of Bethlehem and Nazareth, as well as of some other cities, are largely Christian. Moreover, practically every country in Christian Europe is represented among the inhabitants of Palestine by colonies, settlements, or communities.

The Political Zionists, through their propaganda, systematically endeavor to give the world a false conception of the Palestinians. They would have us believe, to quote the words of Zangwill, that ‘Palestine is not so much occupied by the Arabs as over-run by them. They are nomads. . . . And therefore we must gently persuade them to ”trek.” Examine the literature of the leaders of Zionism, and it will be found that this false position is reiterated again and again. True, nomads are found in Palestine, as everywhere throughout the Orient; but to foist upon the intelligent public the idea that the population of this land is made up of Bedouins, or even of Arabs, is a deliberate attempt to deceive it.

The inhabitants of the land should be called Syrians — or Palestinians, if Palestine is to be separated from Syria. True, there are many Arabs living there, more, for example, than Greeks, Germans, or Latins, because of the proximity of Arabia; but these are not the real Palestinians, nor do they represent the bulk of the substantial part of the nation. The people whom the Jews conquered when they entered Palestine were called by the general name of Amorites or Canaanites. While many were massacred by the Jews in certain cities, still only a portion of the country was conquered. Even after David took Jerusalem, Amorites continued to live in that city; besides, many foreign peoples, as the Hittites and Philistines, also lived in the land. There can be no question that the blood of the present Palestinian, or Syrian, includes that of the Jew as well as of the Amorite, Hittite, Phoenician, Philistine, Persian, Greek, Latin, and Arab. Such a fusion is not unlike that found in the veins of many Americans whose ancestors have lived here for several generations. When the whole population of Palestine became Mohammedan, there is little doubt that a large percentage of the Jews were also forced to accept this faith; their descendants are now classed by the Political Zionists as ‘Arabs.’ The Yemenites, who we know migrated from Arabia, and who in every respect resemble the Arab in physique, appearance, and bearing, they, none the less, call Jews, because of their faith. Then, also, in such Christian cities as Bethlehem and Ramallah a type is seen that is distinctively European, and doubtless largely represents remnants or descendants of the Crusaders, or of Christians who migrated to the Holy Land in the past centuries. Moreover, the Palestinian or Syrian is a composite race, largely Semitic, which has developed from the association of the different racial elements inhabiting the land for at least five thousand years past. And while the Arabs have in all periods filtered in from Arabia, and the language, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia, is Arabic, it is a deliberate misrepresentation to classify the inhabitants as ‘Arabs.’

These are the people whose status the Political Zionist proposes to reduce by securing the control of the country; and who — what is still worse — must be persuaded to ‘trek.’ As Zangwill says, ‘After all, they have all Arabia with its million square miles, and Israel has not a square inch. There is no particular reason for the Arabs to cling to these few kilometres. To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit; let them exemplify it now.’ Palestine, the organ of the British Palestine Committee, for July 10, 1920, says: ‘For the Arab nation there are vast areas outside of Palestine in which to develop its national life, and Arabs of Palestine will be free to develop there, also.’[continue reading]

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