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4Insights into Theodor Herzl, His Supporters and Non-Supporters, and early Zionism

Friday, May 1, 2015

Theodor Herzl was an atheist. (pp. 22-23). His mindset on the Jewish situation had changed with time. He went from German nationalism to cosmopolitanism, and from cosmopolitanism to a belief in the Jewish exodus from Europe. (p. 131). Herzl’s vision of the State of Israel was one in which the Arabs would welcome the Jews, and both peoples would live in amity. (p. 407). Instead, precisely the opposite happened.



Theodor Herzl was an atheist. (pp. 22-23). His mindset on the Jewish situation had changed with time. He went from German nationalism to cosmopolitanism, and from cosmopolitanism to a belief in the Jewish exodus from Europe. (p. 131). Herzl’s vision of the State of Israel was one in which the Arabs would welcome the Jews, and both peoples would live in amity. (p. 407). Instead, precisely the opposite happened.

This book provides a lesson on the important Jewish personages of the time. For instance, Heinrich Graetz is characterized by Amos Elon as a great Jewish historian, and Graetz’ HISTORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE is portrayed as monumental. (p. 40).

One learns much about other Zionists and pro-Zionist of the time. These include Max Nordau, and the Pole, Count Philip Michael de Nevlinski. The latter had vainly supported the January 1863 Insurrection against tsarist Russia, and now was interested in the Zionist venture. (p. 195).

I focus on some specific topics:

THE GERMAN/JEWISH/SLAV HIERARCHY, AND JEWISH GERMANOPHILIA

Author Elon summarizes the situation of Jews in Herzl’s Austria at the turn of the century, (quote) Many, if not most, Jewish students in Austria were ardent German patriots. If ever a people spontaneously and wholeheartedly entered the service of another, the Jews of Austria did so for the ruling Germans of Austria. Never was an attachment by a minority to a majority so strong; never was it expressed in such magnificent cultural contributions. Austrian middle-class Jews generally supported the so-called Constitutionalist party. The Constitutionalists endorsed the liberal creed of their kin in England and France—laissez-faire, rule of law, freedom of speech, separation of church and state—but they upheld the right of the German-speaking population to rule the vast majority of poor, uncivilized Slavs. The German speakers monopolized power, destined to rule by virtue of their higher culture and superior language; the Slavs were commonly called BEDIENTENVOLKER (servant peoples). (unquote). (p. 53).

HOW TO FORM A JEWISH STATE

Herzl envisioned a series of colonies of Jews, including one in Uganda. These would serve as national bases and training stations for the repossession of Palestine. Elon comments, (quote) For Jews, everything always was upside down anyway. With all other peoples, colonies were founded by the motherland; in this case the colonies would come first and later establish a motherland. (unquote). (p. 375).

The foregoing has unmentioned implications. Why create a Jewish community, from scratch, in Uganda? What better location to create a Jewish colony than in one in which so many Jews already lived and where there was a huge Jewish infrastructure already in place? Enter foreign-ruled Poland. Not surprisingly, Poles feared a Judeopolonia (a politicized Jewish state-within-a-state on Polish soil)--one that would be an end in itself and/or a step in the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

HERZL IN WILNO: INADVERTENT DESCRIPTION OF THE LITVAKS (LITWAKS)

Let us pursue the Jewish state-within-state concept, otherwise known as Jewish nationalism (whether of the Bundist or Zionist variety), a little further:

The author sets the stage for this visit to Wilno, (quote) Vilna [Wilno, Vilnius] was a center of revolutionary activity, a stronghold of the clandestine BUND of Jewish Workers, which was aligned with Lenin’s Social Democratic party. Vilna was also a citadel of left-wing Zionist activity. The Zionists and the BUND had in fact grown intertwined within the history of Russian radicalism. If many of the Zionists were left-wing socialists, the BUND affirmed Jewish nationhood, but within Russia proper. (Plekhanov called the Bundists “Zionists afraid of a sea voyage.”). (unquote). (pp. 382-383).

Although not written for this purpose, the attitudes of the Litvaks (Litwaks) were instructive. Apart from issues centered on Jewish overpopulation and increased economic competition, they make it easy to see why Poles resented the influx of Litvaks into Congress Poland (Russian-ruled central Poland), and why the more tradition-minded and Poland-friendly Jews of Congress Poland did also.

RECONCILING COMMUNISM AND ZIONISM

Ber Borochov is most remembered for attempting a synthesis of Marxism and Zionism. While Elon does not mention Borochov, he makes it clear that Herzl also attempted a synthesis—or rather prioritization—of the two movements. Elon comments, (quote) Herzl asked his audience to concentrate on Zionist agitation rather than on Jewish culture within Russia itself, and to thereby avoid Russian suspicions. He warned also against Jewish involvement in socialist activities. This, he intimated, was putting the cart before the horse. “In Palestine, in our own land, an extreme Socialist party will be perfectly in order,” he said. “Once we are in our land such a party would vitalize our political life—and then I shall determine my own attitude toward it.” (unquote)(pp. 381-382). [Semantics aside, how is "extreme Socialist" different from Communist?]

IMPACT OF ZIONISM

Many leading Jewish thinkers of the time were skeptical of Herzl’s efforts, for one reason or another. For instance, Asher Ginzberg (Ahad Haam), described by author Amos Elon as one of the most influential Jewish thinkers in Eastern Europe, criticized Herzl for his cosmopolitan outlook, and the lack of specific Jewish content in Herzl’s movement. (p. 350).

The author quantifies the spectacular growth of Jewish interest in Zionism after the First Zionist Congress. For instance, there were an astonishing 913 Jewish Zionist clubs and organizations, from all over the world, already present at the Second Zionist Congress. (p. 258).

THE REACTION FROM WEALTHY JEWS

Not surprisingly, Herzl sought the support from wealthy and influential Jews. For example, (quote) He [Herzl] received Israel Poznanski, owner of huge textile mills in Lodz, said to be the richest Jew in Poland and a notorious exploiter of child labor. (unquote). (p. 253). Herzl also sought the support of wealthy gentiles.

Edmond de Rothschild had funded Jewish colonies in Palestine but, according to Elon, his actions were of a philanthropic nature, and Rothschild was not a Zionist. (p. 209). Theodor Herzl found the Rothschilds’ wealth repulsive, and would continue to do so even if these bankers eventually supported his Zionist venture, (quote) He [Herzl] warned the Rothschilds not to expect great riches in the new state. The Rothschilds’ alarming concentration of wealth would not be tolerated even “if you go with us.” (unquote). (p. 148).

Interestingly, Herzl voiced the kind of invective against the Rothschilds that one might expect from a Jewish-bankers conspiracy theorist. Theodor Herzl had suspected that the House of Rothschild was acting against him, prompting this reaction described by Elon, (quote) He [Herzl] worked himself up into a veritable Rothschild phobia. They were mean “scoundrels and malefactors… Sooner or later,” he wrote on September 23, “I shall have to start a campaign against the Rothschilds…the world menace that this octopus constitutes.” In a public statement he threatened the Rothschilds with the international boycott of the Jewish middle classes. (unquote). (p. 251).
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