The Jewish nation has been amongst the most oppressed and persecuted in the history of mankind. Exile has been the distinguishing feature of the Jewish people. Jewish power in the ancient Roman province of Judea was severely weakened following the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD and culminated in the full exile of the Jewish nation following their third revolt against the Roman Empire. The great “removal of the Jews from the land of Eretz-Israel – the Land of Israel – and the loss of all political rights over their country”, started a two thousand year long cycle of hate against the Jews – primarily in Europe – that culminated with the Nazi perpetrated Holocaust of the 20th century.
The Jewish Question has plagued the history of Europe for over a millennia. This paper views the question of the Jews as a social and national question that for ages, the Europeans, nor the Jews in exile could find a solution to. Let the student of history firstly question the idea of the Jewish Question itself. What is the Jewish Question? The term is extremely ambiguous and it is worth noting that a plethora of ‘Jewish Questions’ existed throughout the centuries. What constitutes a Jew? Who is a Jew? Are the Jews a nation? Is Jewishness entrenched in a person’s blood or in his religion? Are Jews capable of assimilation? Does the Jew belong in the ghetto or in modern society? The term Judenfrage (Jewish Question) came about in the modern era and arose in what was to become modern day Germany in the 1840’s. The neo-Hegelian writer Bruno Bauer used the term first in 1842 for the title of an essay, Die Judenfrage. Bauer wrote about the problems of integrating Jews in the states and societies of predominantly Christian Europe. The term was initially used by the foes of Jews to counter the progress being made by emancipated Jewish people throughout the German realm. However, Zionists and the Zionist writers adopted the term for their cause and used it to further their claim for the establishment of a national Jewish state.
“As long as deep in the heart the soul of a Jew yearns,
And towards the East an eye looks to Zion,
Our hope is not lost, the hope of a thousand years,
To be a free people in our land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem,
To be a free people in our Land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
This paper argues that the historic solution to the Jewish Question is manifested in the Zionist philosophy. Firstly, Zionism is contended to be the most logical and historic solution to the troubles of the Jews in Europe and around the world. A return to Zion and the establishment of a Jewish state on territory that had traditionally belonged to the Jews constituted in 1948 and continues to constitute the best solution to the problems faced by the Jewish nation. Secondly, Jews underwent tremendous suffering living in Europe and even after their ‘emancipation’ they continued to face anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. Lastly, the everlasting effects of Zionism and the ideal establishment of the State of Israel shall be examined while criticisms of the Jewish state will also be addressed. The establishment of Israel and the return of the Jewish nation to their geographic roots gave Jews the freedom that they never had before.
Throughout the ages, the Jews were arguably the most oppressed group of people living in Europe. Traditional historic oppression of the Jews manifested itself in the confinement of Jews to ghettos and the placement of strict limitations to their social and economic opportunities throughout Europe. However, this part of the paper will focus on Jewish oppression during the modern era and how it led to the intellectual formation and dissemination of the Zionist philosophy.
Zionism constitutes the most reasonable, the most logical and the historic solution to the troubles of the Jews in diaspora. Despite the Jewish people’s great social and economic progress following the Enlightenment, anti-Semitism remained an extremely potent force throughout Europe. In 1863 a group of wealthy, privileged Jews undertook the task of disseminating Enlightenment values to their Jewish brethren spread throughout Eastern Europe, in what was then the Russian Empire. They travelled to St. Petersburg and founded the Society for the Dissemination of Enlightenment whose objective was “to spread the knowledge of the Russian language among the Jews…” and “… to aid in carrying out the purposes of the society, and, further, to assist the young in devoting themselves to the pursuit of science and knowledge.” In their hearts, these modernized and privileged Jews sought to enlighten the traditional ghetto dwelling religious Jews of Eastern Europe and to Europeanize them. However, despite their noble undertaking, European society never accepted them. In response to continued European anti-Semitism, Moshe Leib Lilienblum (1843-1910), initially a strong proponent of religious reforms to assimilate Jews into European society concluded that “Jew hatred was rife because the Jew remained an alien everywhere in his dispersion, and the only answer was to return to Eretz Israel (Land of Israel).”
According to Lilienblum, the Jews have a historic right to the Land of Israel that was not lost during their defeat centuries ago by the Romans. In his view, the Jewish people’s historic right was equivalent to the conquered peoples of Europe who became part of the various European empires at the time yet continued to dwell within their historic lands. Herein lies the fundamental seed of Zionism. Decades prior to Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) writing Der Judenstaat, some educated Jews in Europe had already begun to conclude that their emancipation truly lay in returning back to their native Zion, in returning back to their homeland, the homeland that remained alive in the Jewish collective memory.
Zionism is a philosophy that holds the Jews to be a single, distinctive entity, that possesses national and not just religious attributes. The Jewish nation in exile lived in physical distress and psychological malaise that was a result of their alien status throughout the world. Zionism “called for a contractual mobilization of members of the Jewish ethnic group in order to solve their common problem by negotiating with the outside world for the creation of a new sovereign civic entity for the Jews like that possessed by other nations.” The fact that the Jews were a people robbed of their state centuries ago gave legitimacy to their right of return and to the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state that would safeguard the Jewish nation, culture and religion. Zionism is arguably the most logical solution to the “problem of the Jews” and the Jewish Question. A distinct people without their own sovereign state, living as aliens amongst hostile foreign populations is a recipe for disaster. True the Jew was permitted to exist, but that is arguably where his rights effectively ended. Despite emancipation, Jews continued to face anti-Semitism throughout Europe and in fact, it is arguable that the more the Jews became free in Europe and the more they succeeded in the continent’s social and economic life, the more potent the ugly face of anti-Semitism became.
Zionism was also a solution to the rapid assimilation process of the Jews in Europe, predominantly in France and the Germanic lands. Zionism came about as a nationalist response to save and regenerate the Jewish national-cultural individuality. Jews during the 19th and early 20th centuries basically had two choices, the first was to assimilate into European society and discard their inherent Jewishness, whether that be name, religion or traditions. The second option for Jews was to remain Jewish at a theological and cultural level and continue to physically stand out amongst the European population. The latter group was regarded by the former as being backwards, uneducated and lacking modernity. The problem faced by all Jews however, was that no matter how hard they tried to assimilate or retain their Jewish qualities, modern European societies with their age old anti-Semitic traditions combined with the growth of modern nationalism were never accepting of the Jews. Jewishness was arguably seen by many on the far European political right as something inherent in a Jew’s blood. The gentile population of Europe nursed “by the cultural heritage of Jew hatred… perceived the prodigiously successful upward economic mobility of the Jews as a presumptuous provocation.” Whether the Jew resided in the ghetto, in the slum or in a city mansion, he was always hated and despised by a hostile native population. The man to fully stir the Jewish people towards a national revival was non other than Theodore Herzl.
Theodore Herzl, the writer of Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) is arguably the most pivotal figure in the history of Zionism and is considered to be the founding father of the modern day State of Israel. Herzl argued that the only real emancipation for the Jews manifested itself in the creation of a national, independent Jewish state. The Zionist philosophy, called for a Jewish state that would be the ultimate guarantor of Jewish national, cultural, social, political, religious and economic rights. To Herzl, the Jewish state also provided a resolution to the conflict of ‘leaving the ghetto’, leaving one’s Jewish roots and entering European society as opposed to remaining fully isolated and ghettoized from the host nations. Moreover, the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state would fully join the Jewish nation as equals with all other nations on the world stage. Finally the Jews would no longer have to live as aliens and a persecuted people in foreign lands.
Zionism essentially called upon the Jews of the world, particularly the Jews of Europe, to return back to their ancient homeland. The sands of Judea, the stories of King David and the shared collective memory of Jewish history dictated to the Jews that the ultimate resolution to the problems they faced in exile was a return to their geographic roots. The formation of the Jewish state would have not only broken down external oppression, but also internal obstacles and the phantom “walls of the ‘new ghetto’ that had prevented Jews from being morally proper, self-respecting human beings. The state of the Jews not only makes Jews free, it also makes them better.” The Jewish state would thus break down all forms of anti-Semitism faced by Jews throughout Europe. The Jewish individual would be free to pursue whatever sort of occupation or lifestyle he or she desired and would not be hindered by a large native population in pursuing his or her dreams and aspirations. The Jewish people indeed are the native population of the region which was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine. The strip of land on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea that the Jews had traditionally inhabited provided true Jewish emancipation and a chance to better the Jewish individual based on individual freedoms that were not fully prevalent in Europe for Jews at the time. Indeed a return to Zion and the establishment of a Jewish state on territory that had traditionally belonged to Jews constituted the great historic solution to the troubles of Jewry.
As Theodore Herzl stated: “The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers.” Herzl highlighted the situation and conditions under which the Jews lived. Wherever there was a sizable Jewish population, there existed anti-Semitism and hatred towards the Jewish people. The underlying assumption within the Zionist camp was that persecution of Jews by non-Jews was endemic in nation-states throughout history wherein Jews constituted a minority.” History proved this fact to be correct. An endemic cycle of Jewish persecution and anti-Semitism remained rampant in Europe culminating in the Holocaust. Following the horrors of the Holocaust, it became ever more paramount for the establishment of the Jewish state. Modern industrialized mass slaughter proved that minorities, especially Jews, were in danger of being exterminated en masse.
The Nazi perpetrated Holocaust during World War II is widely considered to be the greatest crime committed in the history of mankind. The most sinister answer and proposal to solve the question of the Jews in Europe was Adolf Hitler’s (1889-1945), “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” In addition to the industrial slaughter of European Jews, Hitler’s scientists conducted “scientific experiments” on helpless Jewish victims destined for the gas chambers. At the Auschwitz death camp, the Nazis went so far as to remove the gold teeth from the mouths of exterminated Jews in order to melt them down and convert them into gold bars, sometimes amounting to as much as twenty-two pounds of gold per day. In 1942 and 1943, when Nazism was at the apex of its power, the killing of the Jews intensified rapidly. Three quarters of the murdered Jews in the Holocaust were dead by mid February, 1943. Some of the greatest crimes within the Holocaust were perpetrated by the SS Einsatzgruppen, a paramilitary force that would advance directly behind Wehrmacht soldiers and shoot every Jew they could find. These units of murderers slaughtered “Jewish men, women, and children” within the Soviet territory captured by the Nazis on the Eastern Front. The largest number of Jews shot to death in single instance occurred outside the Ukrainian capital Kiev, at the ravine known by the name, Babi Yar where “in just two days in September 1941, mobile killing units shot more than 30,000 Jews and an unknown number of other victims.” Over 30,000 human beings shot to death in two days is incomprehensible to the average individual. Yet acts such as these were routine for the Nazis and in addition to the slaughter of the Jewish, over 3.3 million Soviet Red Army prisoners of war also died under Nazi hands. What is most disturbing is the fact that the Nazis were not the only ones carrying out mass murder against the Jews.
The native Ukrainian, Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian peoples all slaughtered the Jews that lived in their territories. The suffering endured by the Soviet occupied peoples of Eastern Europe under the iron-fisted rule of Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) blamed the age old scapegoats for all their suffering – the Jews. Massive pogroms in Ukraine and Poland left thousands of Ukrainian and Polish Jews dead at the hands of their own countrymen. Of course some of the native population of Eastern Europe attacked Jews in order to please the Nazis, who viewed Slavic peoples as being a sub-human race, whilst others found the opportunity to unleash their anti-Semitic carnage upon the poor and helpless Jews of Eastern Europe. Another disturbing incidence that occurred on the Eastern Front was on the border of Romania and Ukraine. A massive explosion of anti-Semitism engulfed Romania in 1941 and Romanian authorities forced Romanian Jews across the border into Ukraine where they would be shot on site by the Germans and their accomplices. The crimes committed by the Nazis and their allies during World War II against the Jewish people are enormous and very well known throughout the educated realm of the world.
This paper’s thesis is not specifically written concerning the Holocaust. The main reason for discussing the Holocaust and and the crimes committed against the Jewish people is because the Holocaust was a pivotal beacon and key argument that justified the establishment of a Jewish state. An estimated 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the zenith of European anti-Semitism and wiped out the majority of Jews living in Europe. Millions upon millions of Jewish men, women and children were shot, gassed, buried alive, and in a word, exterminated. It was at this stage of modern history that the Zionist ideal firmly took hold amongst many of the surviving Jews and the gentiles who opposed the Nazi industrial killing of the Jews. By the end of the war, the return to Zion and the establishment of the Jewish state was the final solution and answer to Jewish question and persecution.
During the first conference of Holocaust survivors in July 1945, “the people who had been just released from the concentration camps declared: We the remnant of the masses of European Jewry… raise our voices as a people and demand: the immediate establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine”. These Jews, the ones fortunate enough to survive the Nazi killing machine, had a clear vision and redefined world view. The establishment of the Jewish state was the only real and true safeguard of the Jewish people. Everywhere in the world the Jews were an alien minority population. It is only in the land of Palestine, the land where the ancient Jewish kingdoms once thrived, the land that is etched into the Jewish collective memory where Jews will truly be safe and emancipated. Europe had just slaughtered most of its Jewish population and the anti-Semitic Stalin had conquered all of Eastern Europe and established oppressive Communist regimes throughout the landscape. The Jews could not go to the East, they were arguably fearful of the West after what had been done to them and overall, it may be plausible to believe that after a nation undergoes the traumatic experience of genocide, the only safe place it views is where one’s own dwell. The foundations of the Jewish state had been laid. Tied to the Zionist philosophy were now the Holocaust survivors who could no longer trust any foreign nation to safeguard their natural rights after what was perpetrated upon them. In due course the Jewish state would be born out of the ashes of the Holocaust. The Promised Land, Israel, the only Jewish majority state in the world and the first Jewish state in two thousand years was now becoming an ever increasing reality.
The creation of a Jewish majority in Palestine “was at the heart of political Zionism.” Jewish immigration to the Promised Land, aliyah, “was the proposed Zionist solution for the Jewish problem.” It is well known that over the centuries, ethnic Arabs came to dominate the geographic landscape that traditionally belonged to the Jews. Instead of calling for a violent Jewish invasion of Eretz Israel, forceful expulsion of Arabs from traditional Jewish lands, or other violent forms of colonization, the Zionist leadership proposed the steady stream of Jewish immigration to re-solidify the Jewish people’s hold on their traditional homeland. The call for nonviolence and the peaceful purchases and settlement of oppressed European Jews into Palestine is barely lauded in the modern world. It must be taken into consideration prior to one’s criticisms of Zionism and the end goal of the Zionists that they were not the ones to commence hostilities towards the Arabs. Zionists were humble men armed with their intellect and a great vision. A vision for freedom, equality, democracy and the return of their nation to their geographic roots – the one place in the world where they were free to proudly proclaim their Jewishness and practice their ancient religion. Chaim Weizmann, the man who headed the World Zionist Organization after Herzl, assured the Arab peoples of Jaffa that, “It is not our aim to get hold of the supreme power and administration in Palestine, nor to deprive any native of his possession.” Moreover, Weizmann assured Lord Arthur Balfour that, “A community of four to five million Jews in Palestine could radiate out into the near East and so contribute mightily to the reconstruction of countries which were once flourishing.” Weizmann’s goal was to “make Palestine a Jewish country” through the peaceful immigration and settlement of Jews. Herzl himself addressed the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and called for “the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine”. Unlike the corrupted popular view prevalent in modern society, the Zionists were not murderous imperialist colonials who sought to eradicate the native population from their lands. They were noble individuals fighting against bigotry, extremism and hatred that was so prevalent throughout the modern world in the early 20th century.
The Jews were in fact the true heirs to the land of Palestine, however, based on the statements of the Zionist leaders at the time of the Balfour Declaration, Zionists were fully willing to participate with their Arab Semitic brethren and revitalize the entire region that had not yet embraced modernity. Through Jewish emigration from Europe and around the world, the population of Jews in Palestine would undoubtedly have become a majority Jewish one, hence the formation of a Jewish state that gives all within its borders equal rights and freedoms, something that the modern day State of Israel continues to vigorously uphold. The Zionists believed that they must hold “Palestine as the Arabs are to possess Arabia or the Poles Poland.”
Nowhere did the Zionists claim or state they desired an ethnically cleansed pure Jewish state. The Jews who desired to migrate to Palestine and the Zionist leadership itself experienced discrimination and racism firsthand living in exile. Zionism itself was an answer European anti-Semitism and the Jewish Question. The establishment of Jews from around the world in a national homeland based in Palestine was all they simply desired. A return to the lands of their forefathers. Perhaps the Zionist leadership was too naive in their view of the Arabs as their fellow Semitic brethren. Surely they did not anticipate fierce anti-Jewish sentiment from the Arabs, a people with whom the Jews in Palestine had coexisted for centuries. What is equally paradoxical concerning Arab hatred towards the Jews is that the Jews are regarded in Islam and its holy scripture as a righteous people who have been given sacred instruction from God. Moreover the Jews were the first of the Abrahamic faiths to believe in the message of monotheism. It is difficult to understand why the Zionist leadership had such a benevolent attitude towards the Arab peoples of Palestine. Based on Jewish literature at the time and the platforms of various Zionists, both Arabs and Jews were to coexist as equal citizens within Palestine in which the political rights of the Arabs would be protected.
Unfortunately though, for the Jewish Zionists, there was “immediate opposition to the Zionist enterprise.” In 1929 the Arab instigated rivalry against the Jews erupted in August 1929 , culminating in the deaths of 240 Jews and Arabs after a series of riots in Jerusalem. Over the next two decades, the Arab-Jewish rivalry would crystalize in the atrocities committed by both sides in 1948 when the United Nations officially partitioned the Mandate of Palestine in 1947 and the Jewish State of Israel formally came to be on May 14th, 1948. Over the next few decades the Arabs and the Israelis were to fight three major wars with each other resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Austrian born Jewish-Israeli philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) wrote in an essay published by New Outlook shorty before his death on 13 June, 1965 that, “Undoubtedly, the fate of the Near East depends on the question whether Israel and the Arab peoples will reach a mutual understanding before it is too late. We do not know how much time is given us to try.”
This paper set about to prove that Zionism constitutes the historic solution to the Jewish Question. The Jews were a people who faced tremendous hardship throughout their history of exile in Europe. Being confined to ghettos and specific occupations for centuries takes its toll on a population and tends to determine their way of life. Having been largely divided from the European population, many Jews had failed to modernize in the 20th century, particularly the Eastern European or Ostjuden Jews. However, the greatest wave of anti-Semitism and murder came from Western and Central Europe. These societies were considered to be liberal, advanced and democratic as compared to the dictatorships of the East. Something extremely wrong went about during the first half of the twentieth century and unfortunately it culminated in the deliberate murder of over 6 million European Jews. Zionism as a national philosophy sought to bring about the end of Jewish persecution. No matter how hard Jews tried to adopt European ways and accept modernity, they were always considered to be aliens by most of the European populace. It was only after World War II and after the world learnt fully about the industrial killings of Jews that public sympathy swung in favor of establishing a Jewish state. The establishment of Israel was critical to preserving the Jewish people as a national entity. Had the Nazis won the war in Europe, it is very plausible that every single Jew in Europe, down to the last baby would have been murdered. The Jewish state is the one state in the entire Middle East that respects individual freedoms, democratic rights and the strive towards modernity. Yet it is greatly unfortunate for the Jews that they fled an anti-Semitic Europe to a region in which they obtained their own state, yet face the incredibly huge anti-Semitic threat from the populations of every single state that borders them. One can only support the right of the Jewish state to exist and fully understand the reason why this state must be a strong state protecting human liberty.
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