The Program of Zionism As a Menace to Jewish Unity

An Argument that Disruption, and Not Harmony, May Follow the
British Offer of Palestine as the Jewish Homeland

[Current Opinion. February 1918]

The capture of Jerusalem by British forces, following the letter from Mr. Balfour to Lord Rothschild in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people, has been generally interpreted as marking a new unity of Jewry and as pointing the way to a glowing Jewish future. But in this as in other stirring events of our time, appearances are deceptive. A considerable percentage of the Jews are out of sympathy with the Zionist movement, and a number of Jewish leaders have lately taken occasion to point out what they regard as the menace of the Zionist program. One of the ablest of these, Ralph Philip Boas, a Jewish-American teacher, declares it is just because the Zionist program is near fulfillment that honest criticism must not be stifled. "This is no time," he says, "for a comfortable and easy acquiescence in what is after all a matter involving the future not of a few thousand colonists but of the whole Jewish world." For Zionism, as Mr. Boas interprets it, is not merely a proposal to erect a new state in Palestine; it is a program of life for Jews everywhere. He continues (in the New York Times):

"Zionism maintains, therefore, that the only possible way for a man to be a complete Jew is to believe in Jewish theology, to order his spiritual life as that theology dictates, to obey faithfully the minute prescription of the traditional Jewish law, to speak a Jewish language, to cultivate Jewish arts, to live in a Jewish land under a Jewish government. The Zionist maintains, moreover, that Judaism is now confronted with a very real issue, preservation or extinction.

"With the last of the compact European Jewries in process of dissolution, Judaism has no longer any central home. The result is gradual but inevitable assimilation, which can have only one end, the extinction of Judaism as a religion and of the Jews as a group.

"Assimilation is the crux of the Jewish problem as the Zionists see it. Zionism demands, therefore, that Jews regard themselves as a nationality forming with a dozen other nationalities a union under the Stars and Stripes. It would consider America not as a melting pot, but as a magnified Balkan peninsula. It would, if consistently interpreted, regard the individualism shown by the Germans in the United States and by the French-Canadians in the Dominion as entirely justified, since these groups refuse to allow their individuality to be fused with others into a single national group. Zionism is therefore more than a romantic adventure; it is a very practical and momentous issue."

That Zionism has its dangers is, in Mr. Boas' eyes, obvious; and the gravest danger he finds in what he calls "a concept of German pseudo-science. -—the 'Jewish race.'" He explains:

"The fact is that there is no pure Jewish blood. The whole record of Judaism is a record of constant intermarriage and assimilation. Every one knows that Jews differ among; themselves as much as Frenchmen, and that the class-concept 'Jew' is the product of loose observation of particular groups. All talk of race necessity in connection with Zionism is misleading. The only possible justification for Zionism is that it will enable Jews to live better lives. Zionists are continually maintaining that only in Palestine can Jews live nobly; that Judaism as a religion can live only where Jews have political autonomy. There is a causal relationship assumed here which needs to be proved. Even Ahad Ha'Am, perhaps the greatest of the Zionists, sometimes despaired because many Zionists could see only the political side of their movement, and therefore paid no attention to its truly valuable aspects, the Jewish culture, the Jewish religion, the Jewish ethics. What assurances, have we that Jews, when tangled in the problems of political administration will automatically become nobler, and finer men? There is every assurance that they will not, for they must necessarily shift the burden of effort from religious and ethical achievement to political achievement."

Moreover, Mr. Boas continues, Zionism is constantly emphasizing the breach between Jew and Christian. "As the child of anti-Semitism, it thrives on persecution." The consequence is that it tends to exaggerate Jewish peculiarities and to nourish itself upon the ill-will which Jews are prone to fancy even when it is not present. "Many of us," Mr. Boas remarks, "do not believe that peculiarity is the most desirable thing in life. We honestly believe that the separation of church and state is one of the great blessings of life, and that among some Jews there is altogether too much inbreeding of ideas and sentiment. We honestly feel, that Jews have still a few things to learn from others."

But one may grant all these things and still ask: If there are Jews who can be happy in Palestine,, why not let them go there and be happy? Mr. Boas replies; "Such is not the real issue. Zionists want political independence. They want to speak as the Jewish people. In short, they want to arrogate a supremacy which non-Zionists can never dream of giving them without a struggle." The argument concludes:

"It is all very well for Zionists to say that non-Zionists will not be affected by what goes on in a new Jerusalem; but they know that they are not facing the facts. Who of us Jews can escape being drafted into whatever is done by a Jewish people under a 'Jewish flag'?

"In its attempt to force unity upon all Jews, whether they want it or not, Zionism is on the brink of splitting Judaism irreconcilably. There are men who urge that now is the time for a new peace in Judaism, that with ail approaching consummation Zionism ought to receive new confidence and encouragement. Such a wish is far from fulfillment. Not harmony but disruption is in sight. It is inconceivable that American Jews should allow their future to be determined by the group of men who will control the Zionist State. They would have but one resource, to cast off their bonds and convince the world that Jews, truly American Jews, could not take the responsibility for men who attempted to reconcile loyalty to America with a foreign nationality.

"Who knows what the future may bring forth? Who knows what entangling alliances an independent Palestine might form? One must remember Trotzky, Dernburg, and Hillquit. They, too, are Jews. No country now can escape international association. Those dreamers who think that Zion could occupy a splendid isolation in international politics have no sense of history. They make the same mistake as the dreamers who think that the puny protests of a Government at Jerusalem could end Jewish persecution everywhere. Just so long as genuinely active anti-Semitism which would call forth protest is possible, just so long will little States have no power. A condition of international good-will which will make the voice of a little State heard in the council of nations, will make of anti-Semitism, an impossibility.

"The future is clear. The complete Zionist program means a complete disruption of Jewish unity. With Zion an independent State every American Jew must become a Zionist and take the responsibility for the acts of Zionists, or find some other name than Jew. No, one, of course, can object to colonies of Jews in Palestine, or anywhere else. But every Jew who values his independence and the Americanism of which he has become a part will object as never before to the complete Zionist program."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013



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