After Herzl’s death it was widely thought that the Zionist movement was at the end of its tether. The movement was his creation; what united its members was above all loyalty to the leader. He had been both president and prophet, and there was no leader in sight able to inspire similar enthusiasm and confidence. If even Herzl’s position had been somewhat shaky during the last two years of his life, if there had been many attacks and bitter criticism, how much less likely was another leader to succeed in holding the movement together. At the time of his death it was only too transparent that his policy, the diplomatic approaches in Constantinople and various European capitals, had failed. The Uganda debate was still unresolved; moreover caucuses, factions, even separate parties, were gradually emerging within the Zionist movement. It was perhaps an inevitable process, but it made the position of the president, who no longer had a secure basis of support, almost impossible. If a second Herzl were to arise, one of his closest collaborators wrote a year after his death, he would be crushed in the struggle between the various factions.*
Above all there was the problem of Russian Zionism. The Russians admittedly had contributed more to the movement than any other federation, but under the tsarist régime Zionism was only semi-legal. Russian Jews had no influence whatever on their own, let alone on other governments, nor had they international connections or diplomatic experience. The leadership of the movement had to be in the hands of western Jews, however deeply these were distrusted by the Russian Zionists. But central and west European Zionists were at a loss as to the future direction of the movement. Until then Herzl had provided most of the ideas, but even his closest collaborators had little doubt that the revered leader had been a failure, despite his genius, energy and devotion. When the question of publishing Herzl’s diaries came up not long after his death, Nordau spoke out against it in the most emphatic terms: You will ruin Herzl’s name if you publish his diaries. Whoever reads them is bound to believe that he was a fool and a swindler.*
The seventh Zionist congress, held in Basle in late July 1905, had to take a decision about the Uganda project. It was, not unexpectedly, rejected, which led to tumultuous scenes and to the exodus of the Territorialists under Zangwill, as also of some east European left-wing groups, including leading Zionists such as Syrkin. The congress also had to elect a new leader. This was not just a question of finding a suitable personality; there was widespread demand for a policy reorientation. The Russian Zionists under Ussishkin, but also some others, had argued for a number of years that Herzl’s secret diplomacy had led nowhere and that until political conditions for a charter were ripe the main emphasis should be on practical work, on establishing new agricultural settlements, and, in general, on strengthening the Jewish presence in Palestine. Herzl had opposed this approach of the Lovers of Zion for more than two decades without any marked success. He envisaged the colonisation of Palestine on a grand scale, but this was quite impossible without prior political agreement with the Turks. The investment of money and manpower in small-scale colonisation meant not only squandering the scanty resources of the movement: it left the Jewish settlers defenceless, hostages in the hands of the Turks.
Herzl was adamant on this: ‘Not a single man, not a single penny for this country, until the minimum of privileges, of guarantees, has been granted.’† Nordau, Bodenheimer, Marmorek and other members of Herzl’s inner circle shared this view. The movement had to wait until a political constellation arose inside Turkey in which negotiations for a charter would be more promising. Until then all the projects for largescale colonisation would have to be postponed. But there were many others favouring practical work (Gegenwartsarbeit) as an alternative. This slogan encompassed both small-scale settlement in Palestine and the strengthening of the movement in the diaspora. The ‘practicians’ were not in principle opposed to diplomacy, but they anticipated that gradual concessions were more likely to be won than a comprehensive charter; the stronger the Jewish presence, the easier it would be to obtain concessions.
A compromise resolution was eventually passed by the seventh congress to the effect that while rejecting philanthropic, small-scale colonisation, lacking plan and system, the Zionist movement was to work for strengthening the Jewish position in Palestine in agriculture and industry (‘in as democratic a spirit as possible’). A new executive was elected, consisting of three advocates of practical Zionism (Professor Warburg, Ussishkin, and Kogan-Bernstein), as well as three political Zionists (Leopold Greenberg, Jacobus Kann, and Alexander Marmorek). The president of this body, of the Inner Action Committee and of the movement, was David Wolffsohn, who declared somewhat prematurely in his concluding speech that the crisis was over.*
Wolffsohn and his Critics
David Wolffsohn was forty-nine when he took up the post, an old man in a movement consisting predominantly of young people. Born in Lithuania, not far from the German border, he had received a traditional Jewish education, entered the timber trade, and made a huge success of the firm which he established in Cologne. A Lover of Zion since his youth, his interest in things Jewish had never flagged, and he had been one of Herzl’s earliest supporters. Herzl had called him ‘the best’, the one practical man among hundreds of dilettanti, had regarded him as his successor, and had asked him in his testament to take care of his family. Herzl’s way of transacting business had frequently driven Wolffsohn to despair, and it was generally expected that Wolffsohn’s past and experience would make him gravitate towards ‘practical Zionism’. But it was precisely his business acumen and, of course, his loyalty to Herzl which made him continue the tradition of political Zionism. The same was true of Jacobus Kann, the other businessman in the new executive. As he saw it, large-scale investment without political guarantees was a doubtful proposition.
Wolffsohn genuinely did not want to be the new leader. He went to Paris to persuade Nordau to accept the succession, and when he was called by his interlocutor the ‘only possible choice’, he countered by saying that surely Nordau was out of his mind.† He accepted the nomination only under general pressure, with even the Russian Zionists supporting him. He knew of course that there would be a great deal of opposition. The Russians thought him well-meaning and devoted, generous and hard-working, but ‘without personality or vision - he did his best to imitate his ideal, Herzl, but he had neither Herzl’s personality nor his organising ability’.* ‘All our European visitors had the same story to tell about Wolffsohn’, Louis Lipsky relates: he was said to be a man of ordinary education, without ability, without judgment, lacking dynamism and the capacity for leadership, who did not understand the Herzlian ideal of which he professed to be a disciple.†
Such criticism was grossly unfair; Wolffsohn was by no means an amiable half-wit. As an organiser at any rate he was superior to Herzl. He was certainly not an intellectual, and he had no grand design, no major new ideas to offer. But his common-sense provided on many occasions a necessary counterweight to the fantasies of other early Zionists. David Frischman, the Hebrew writer who was present as an observer at the ninth Zionist congress, wrote that Wolffsohn behaved like the only adult person in an unruly kindergarten.‡ The obstruction tactics of the Russian Zionists would have made more sense if they had had an alternative candidate for the leadership. But Ussishkin did not get along with Chlenov, Weizmann did not think highly of Motzkin, and Sokolow, a Polish Jew, had little support among his colleagues from further east. If no political successes were achieved during the years after Herzl’s death, it was simply because of adverse circumstances: ‘Even a cleverer man would have achieved nothing.’§Herzl had established the organisational framework, he had given fresh hope to hundreds of thousands of Jews, and he had put Zionism on the European political map. But the public relations aspect apart, however important that may have been, there was no tangible achievement. Herzl had failed to persuade the Turks or to win decisive support among the powers. There was little his successor could do other than strengthen the movement and wait for a more favourable international constellation.
Wolffsohn did not neglect the contacts established by Herzl. He visited Rothschild in Paris and was slightly more successful than his predecessor in gaining at least some measure of platonic support. He met Vambery, and in 1908 decided to send Victor Jacobson, a Russian Zionist and Ussishkin’s brother-in-law, to act as the permanent representative of the executive in the Turkish capital. Wolffsohn went twice to Constantinople. The intention of the first visit was to induce the Turkish authorities to revoke the ban on Jewish immigration and to establish a combined Turkish-Jewish immigration committee. His visit in October 1907 coincided with a new Turkish financial crisis. Wolffsohn was, in fact, half invited by the government.
A plan was submitted to the Turks under which fifty thousand Jewish families were to settle in Palestine, but not in Jerusalem. They were to become Ottoman subjects and serve in the army, but would be exempt from taxation for twenty-five years. Land would be acquired by the Zionist executive and remain its property.* The Turks wanted a loan of £26 million to consolidate their debt. Wolffsohn countered with an offer of £2 million, but this too was a somewhat foolhardy gesture, apparently not expected to be taken up, for the annual budget of the executive at the time was £4,000, about as much as a wealthy British or German Jew would spend yearly on the upkeep of his family. Wolffsohn was faced by insistent demands from Herzl’s old agents, like Izzet Bey for instance, who asked for one million francs for services rendered, such as the revocation of the ban on immigration. Wolffsohn distrusted them even more than had Herzl. When the Turkish authorities intimated that a gesture of goodwill on their part could be expected only after the Zionists had made the first move, Wolffsohn countered by saying that he could do nothing unless the Turks took the initiative. While the bargaining was still going on, the Young Turks staged their revolution and the sultan was deposed.
The changes in Turkey aroused enthusiasm among the Zionists. ‘If Herzl had lived to this day’, Nordau said at a meeting in Paris, ‘he would have been overjoyed and said: “This is my charter!” ’† The overthrow of the absolutist régime and the democratic manifestos issued by the Young Turks, the fact that they appeared in some degree willing to meet the demands of the minorities in the Ottoman empire, were interpreted as the opening of a new era. Many Zionists were overoptimistic in this respect. Whatever declarations about decentralisation were made in the first flush of excitement, the Young Turks had not the slightest intention to liquidate the empire. They were more, not less nationalistic than Abdul Hamid, and the chances of obtaining a charter were in fact worse than before. It was therefore quite mistaken to argue (as some Zionists did) that their leaders were missing a great opportunity in not showing more initiative in the Turkish capital.
Wolffsohn was doubtful from the very beginning whether it was worthwhile to negotiate with the Young Turks. This was also Jacobson’s appraisal of the situation: ‘There is no one to talk to.’* In March 1909 a new coup took place in the Turkish capital which strengthened Wolffsohn in his belief that his original assessment of the political situation had been correct. In June 1909 he discussed Zionist aims with Husain Hilmi Pasha, the grand vizir, but there was no progress. Colonisation in Palestine on a large scale was ruled out by the Turks, and the ban on immigration, which meanwhile had been reimposed, would not be lifted. Nordau had returned from Constantinople with misgivings a little earlier, but this was even worse. Stalemate was complete and negotiations with the Turks ceased for the next two years.
In the circumstances Wolffsohn was reluctant to put any concrete suggestions on paper, since he was fairly sure that they would be rejected. But he had not given up all hope. Like Jacobson, he was still basically a ‘Turkey-firster’, believing that Constantinople held the key. Jacobson once said that even a very weak Turkey was much stronger than the Jews in Palestine and the Zionist movement backing them. At the same time Wolffsohn was reluctant to invest too much in political work in the Turkish capital. The idea of financing a daily newspaper (Jeune Turc) did not at first appeal to him, and the project was carried out mainly through the support of the Russian Zionists, who better realised its potential importance.†
Jacobson was worried by the lack of coordination among the Jewish organisations active in Constantinople. Not only the Zionists negotiated with the Turks, but also the Alliance Israélite; and later on Dr Nossig became a frequent visitor. Nossig, an early Zionist, had left the movement when his schemes for Jewish colonisation in the Ottoman empire – outside Palestine – had been rejected. A gifted but erratic man, he was at one and the same time writer, sculptor, political scientist, historian, statistician, philosopher, and playwright. Some thought him a well-meaning dilettante, others a dangerous charlatan.‡ Born in Galicia, he became a German patriot and apparently worked for German intelligence during the First World War. Thereafter he was a leading pacifist. He was executed, at the age of almost eighty, by the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto on the suspicion, possibly mistaken, that he was a Gestapo agent.
Jacobson, who had the thankless task of explaining to the Turkish authorities that Nossig represented no one but himself, was the first Jewish diplomat of modern times, a highly cultured though somewhat inarticulate man. Facing much opposition, he nevertheless succeeded in making many friends in the Turkish capital. He thought it pointless to emphasise the political aims of Zionism and concentrated instead on immigration, stressing at the same time the importance of Palestine as a cultural centre for the Jewish people. After his election to the Zionist executive in 1913, he could no longer spend much time in Turkey, and his place was taken by Richard Lichtheim, his former assistant.
Lichtheim was one of a group of young German Zionists (he was only in his twenties at the time) from assimilated families who, having rediscovered their Jewish background, became active as speakers and writers on behalf of the Zionist movement. A man of independent means, he found the work in the Turkish capital of absorbing interest and revealed considerable political acumen in his analysis of the international situation and in his contacts with Turks and foreign diplomats. Unlike Jacobson, he doubted whether the Ottoman empire was likely to last much longer, and expected that if it were to disintegrate - either as the result of an armed conflict or in some other way - England was likely to play a major role in the future of Palestine. But Lichtheim agreed with Jacobson that whatever the long-term prospects, a great deal of work remained to be done in the Turkish capital. But for the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Jewish haute finance, the Zionist movement could have acquired various economic concessions which were for sale in and around Palestine, and whose validity, incidentally, was later recognised by the British mandate. Yet such was the state of Zionist finances, even after the improvement which had taken place under Wolffsohn’s management, that all the executive could or would contribute towards the building of the Hedjaz railway was £500.
The Turkish-Italian war in 1911 gave a fresh impetus to Zionist activities. The Turkish government emerged weakened from this conflict and from the Balkan wars, and there was as a consequence greater willingness to listen to the Zionist request. The restrictions on immigration were partly lifted and it was made easier for foreign citizens to buy land in Palestine. By that time, however, the central government no longer had complete control, and the local Turkish representatives had a great deal of freedom in their interpretation of the directives emanating from Constantinople. It was not at all easy for the executive to steer a safe course in these turbulent years. When Jeune Turc attacked Italy, there was a storm of protest from European Zionist circles. But how could a Turkish newspaper refrain from attacking the enemy at a time of war?
The idea of mobilising Palestinian Jewish youth for the war against Italy was discussed and dismissed. In any case few would have enlisted of their own free will. It was decided instead to dispatch a team of Jewish physicians, and there were declarations of sympathy, albeit somewhat vague, in Zionist newspapers and in the European press. The Zionists had to tread warily because too many conflicting interests were involved, and they had to be equally cautious with regard to Turkish domestic policy. Prudently, they did not take a stand in the conflict between the Young Turks and the opposition Union Party (the Entente Libérale). Within the narrow limits imposed by circumstances Zionist diplomacy in Constantinople was not unsuccessful; and but for its lack of resources it would have achieved even more. Not that a basic change in Turkish policy could have been effected, however much money had been invested: Palestine was not for sale. The main task of the Zionist representatives in Constantinople was to protect the yishuv in times of peace and war. Considering that they were operating not exactly from a position of strength, they accomplished this remarkably well.
Zionism had no clear foreign political orientation during the years before the outbreak of the First World War. It tried to win friends wherever it could. Herzl had believed that he could gain the support of the kaiser, but this illusion quickly faded: Germany was not interested. German Zionist leaders such as Bodenheimer and Friedmann did on a few occasions meet German Foreign Ministry officials, but on the whole the links with Germany were weaker than with the other big powers. The language conflict in 1913 did not make the position of the German Zionists vis-à-vis the Berlin authorities any easier: the Hilfsverein, a Jewish non-Zionist organisation, had helped to establish a technical high school in Haifa on condition that German was to be the medium of instruction. This caused much resentment among Palestinian Jewry, which insisted on the priority of Hebrew. There were demonstrations and the Turkish police had to intervene.
The weakness of the Zionist position in Germany did not, however, fool the London Times. As far as the most influential of British newspapers was concerned, Zionism was merely a tool of the German Foreign Ministry. The seat of the movement was after all in Germany, and most of its leaders and members were ‘Yiddish-speaking Jews all of whom understood German’.* Britain, The Times warned, would have to be very careful in its relations with this movement, not only because of its ‘German character’, but also in view of Britain’s interests in Muslim powers. Isolated attempts were, however, made by the Zionist executive to influence British policy. Weizmann met Balfour first in 1906. Sokolow came to London in 1912 on an official mission and talked to a few politicians. There were no tangible results, but the feelers were symptomatic of a gradual (and partial) reorientation on the part of some Zionist leaders towards England. Even though there was no immediate success, these initial meetings were to be of some importance later on in the context of Zionist diplomacy during the war.
Little was done to attract French support. Pichon, head of the French Foreign Ministry, expressed sympathy in a conversation with Nordau, who was perhaps the first to foresee the coming struggle between London and Paris for spheres of influence in the Levant.* Wolffsohn’s own diplomatic efforts were mainly directed to alleviating the pressure on the Zionist movement in eastern Europe. He met Andrassy, the Austro-Hungarian statesman, following rumours that the Zionist movement might be banned in Hungary. This proved to be a false alarm, but the situation in Russia was going from bad to worse: leading Zionists were being arrested, their offices searched, their newspapers suspended. In March 1908, Wolffsohn sent a memorandum to Stolypin, the Russian prime minister, and in July of that year he was received by him and also by Izvolsky, the foreign minister, and by Makarov, the deputy minister of the interior.† The Russians were willing in principle to recognise the Zionist movement on condition that it ceased to concern itself with Russian domestic affairs and dealt exclusively with issues related to emigration. After Wolffsohn’s departure, Chlenov, the Russian Zionist leader, maintained these contacts, without however achieving any substantial results. In 1910 several Zionist officials were again arrested, and the offices of the movement were closed on the charge of illegally collecting money.
During all these years Russian Zionism faced the question whether or not to take an active part in domestic politics. Before 1905 there had been little enthusiasm, but after the first revolution and the greater intensity of political life, the Zionists found it impossible to stay aloof – it would have meant leaving the field to the anti-Zionists. They participated in the elections to the first Duma, and eight of the fourteen Jewish candidates successful at the first stage were Zionists. But such was the complexity of the electoral system (and the inbuilt discrimination against the Jewish electors) that only five managed eventually to win seats in the Duma.
The debate on the aims of Zionism was resumed after the revolution in Turkey. There was to be no retreat from the Basle programme, though Wolffsohn on at least one occasion offered an interpretation in which the idea of a Jewish state, which earlier on had been left deliberately vague, was described as something quite unreal. In his opening speech to the ninth congress, Nordau announced that in view of the overthrow of the autocratic régime in Turkey the time had come to drop the idea of a charter, one of Herzl’s central concepts, to which however there had been no reference in the Basle programme.* The executive also dissociated itself from the slogan of a homestead to be guaranteed by the big powers. This had always been a thorny issue in relations with Turkey, for the Turks naturally resented any scheme likely to perpetuate and legalise the intervention of foreign powers. But these were tactical changes, shifts in emphasis rather than in the basic attitude of the movement.
The Wolffsohn era officially began in July 1905, when the seventh congress elected a small action committee of seven members. The president resided in Cologne, the other members were located in London (Greenberg), the Hague (Kann), Paris (Marmorek), Berlin (Warburg), Odessa (Kogan-Bernstein), and Yekaterinoslav (Ussishkin). This of course was an impossible arrangement, for the executive could not be convened at short notice. It meant in fact that Wolffsohn had to run the movement single-handed. The transfer of the central office of the movement to Cologne, where Wolffsohn lived, was not an ideal choice either. At the next congress at the Hague, a small steering committee of three was elected, upon Wolffsohn’s request – Wolffsohn himself, Kann, a Dutch banker and protagonist of the political trend, and Professor Warburg, a leading advocate of practical Zionism. The vote for Wolffsohn as president was 135 to 59. When there were loud protests from his opponents, Wolffsohn said he hoped he would have won their confidence too by the time of the next congress.
Far from achieving this, at the next congress in Hamburg in late December 1909, Wolffsohn faced an even stronger and more determined opposition. The very choice of the place and the date provoked the anger of his critics. He was accused of having made his selection in such a way as to guarantee that attendance would be low. The opposition criticised Wolffsohn for running the movement like a despot, of behaviour more autocratic than Herzl’s but without Herzl’s inspiration, political genius and iron will. All the leadership had achieved, the critics maintained, was the movement of its offices from Karolinger Ring 6 (Wolffsohn’s home) in Cologne, to number 31 in the same street. Wolffsohn’s diplomatic missions were regarded as failures. Professor Warburg was the only member of the executive to find favour in the eyes of the opposition because he understood the commandment of the hour, colonisation in Palestine. But he was said to have been hampered by his two colleagues who had more or less sabotaged his various initiatives.*
Wolffsohn’s rebuttal was quite effective: he had no difficulty in showing that those who now wanted his resignation had attacked Herzl on the same grounds. He ridiculed the demand for a broader, more democratic leadership. When there had been a broader executive, he pointed out, many of its members had not attended its sessions or had not even bothered to reply to his letters. And the Russian faction always had five presidents not because it was a paragon of democracy but because it could never agree on the choice of any one leader. This surely was not the way to lead the Zionist movement. Wolffsohn praised Professor Warburg for his initiatives, but implied that many of them were impractical. He pointed out also that the financial situation of the movement had greatly improved. Despite the fact that the Russian Zionists had sabotaged the central leadership by not remitting the money collected locally, this was the first time that the movement was not in debt. Wolffsohn also announced that he was no longer willing to carry the burden of leadership. He had sacrificed his time and his health, and throughout these years there had not been one word of encouragement, let alone of praise. He could not lead the movement against the desire of a considerable and vocal minority.
It was an effective speech which disarmed the opposition without convincing it. Weizmann led the counter-attack: Wolffsohn had referred to the Russian Zionists in the terms a German chancellor would use of nihilist Russian students. He was forever stressing his business experience, and everyone trusted his ability in this respect. But why would he not see that the movement simply could not be run on the same principles as a sound business enterprise? Why was it so difficult to understand that the political challenges could not be met, nor the cultural and colonising tasks accomplished, by one or two people living in Cologne, far from the mainstream of Jewish life?* But hard as it tried, the opposition to Wolffsohn found it impossible to agree on an alternative leader, and in the end the outgoing president was asked to stay in office. Wolffsohn complied without particular joy. He was no longer in good health and had to spend long periods away from his desk convalescing. Nothing had been resolved; the final showdown had merely been postponed.
The leaders of the Russian faction regarded the Hamburg congress as a major disaster and were more determined than ever to oust Wolffsohn at the next (tenth) congress, which took place in Basle in August 1911. One of the first speakers, Adolf Böhm, the historian of Zionism, said that he did not wish to attack Wolffsohn, since the president was obviously ailing. Never you mind, Wolffsohn interjected, I am ill here (pointing to his heart), not here (pointing to his head).* Wolffsohn was still in fighting spirit in his rebuttal of the attacks against him, but he had decided to resign well before the congress opened. A new executive was elected consisting of two Germans, Dr Hantke and Professor Warburg (who was to be the president of the Inner Action Committee), and three veteran Russian Zionists: Victor Jacobson, Shmaryahu Levin and Nahum Sokolow. Berlin was to be the seat of the new executive. Since Wolffsohn had stepped down of his own free will, the congress ended on a note of reconciliation: Chlenov praised the outgoing president and Ussishkin called him the real hero of the gathering. Thus a new, and, it was hoped, happier period was ushered in.
Wolffsohn had accepted the leadership with great misgivings, which in the event proved only too justified. Zionists, Harry Sacher wrote, are not notoriously generous to their leaders, and Wolffsohn was the least appreciated of all. In those who fought against him he excited at best a depreciatory shrug – a mediocrity, a timber merchant. When he resigned, his health was shattered, and he died within two years. But the possibilities that opened up to the movement with the First World War could not have been used by a Zionist leader resident in Germany. Posterity has dealt with Wolffsohn less harshly than his contemporaries: ‘The role of successor is not dramatic: it calls for the prosaic rather than the heroic qualities. But when without salvage there will be a complete wreck, the tug master who brings the storm-battered ship home to port does a notable service. That service Wolffsohn rendered to Zionism, and no other could in the time and the circumstances have done it as well.’†
The struggle between political and ‘synthetic’ Zionism (first formulated by Weizmann in a speech at the eighth congress) was over. With Wolffsohn went Nordau. The keynote speech of the eleventh congress, the last before the war, had been given by Sokolow, since Nordau refused to come. Kann had dropped out even earlier. So had Alexander Marmorek and other members of Herzl’s inner circle. Representatives of east European Jewry now took over the leadership. It had been a fierce conflict, yet it seems in retrospect that its origins are to be sought at least as much in personal animosities and differences in style as in basic differences on policy. For the old leadership, despite its caution, had not altogether neglected practical work in Palestine; the new executive was not able to do much more. No one had been more critical of the diplomatic approach than Weizmann, but the opponent of political Zionism became the chief Zionist diplomatist only a few years later, and obtained the ‘charter’ of which Herzl and Nordau had dreamed. It was one of the many ironies in the history of the Zionist movement.
The new leadership was presided over by Professor Otto Warburg, a botanist of world renown and member of a well-known Hamburg banking family. A gentleman through and through, he was one of the very few leaders who did not have a single enemy in the movement. His interest was directed almost solely to colonisation and its problems. Politics he found boring and he was only too happy to leave this field to his colleagues.* He came from an assimilated background and his interest in Palestine and the Zionist movement had been awakened by his wife’s family. He was habitually criticised by Wolffsohn, and even more sharply by Kann (who administered the property of the Dutch royal family), for engaging in costly experiments in Palestine which the movement could ill afford. These complaints were by no means unjustified. Yet how could agricultural settlement be encouraged without taking certain risks and suffering setbacks and disappointments? But for Warburg’s infectious enthusiasm and occasional foolhardiness, not much progress would have been made in agricultural settlement in Palestine between 1905 and the outbreak of the war.
Almost equally remote from practical politics was Shmaryahu Levin, the most effective propagandist of the movement, ‘teacher of a whole generation of Jewish educators and Zionist officials’. A native of Russia, he had been one of those in the Duma who signed the manifesto protesting against its dissolution. As a result he had to leave his native country in 1906. Like Weizmann, Motzkin and Victor Jacobson, he had studied in Berlin in the 1890s and had been among the founders of the Russian Scientific Association, whose members came to play leading roles in the Zionist movement. A restless man, forever agitated and agitating others, steeped in Jewish and western culture, he retired altogether from politics in later years as his interests shifted to cultural problems and education.
If Levin was the most effective orator of the movement, Nahum Sokolow was its most prolific and influential writer. He wrote gracefully and at great length on many subjects in several languages. His essays were not always models of profound thought, but he did a great deal to introduce western culture to east European Jewry. While Levin regarded himself as a disciple of Weizmann (although actually his senior), for Sokolow (born 1859) Weizmann (born 1874) always remained the upstart young man, talented but hardly capable of engaging in serious diplomatic conversation with leading statesmen. Sokolow was a man of impeccable manners. Sporting spats and a monocle, he ‘enjoyed life best when he moved in an atmosphere of diplomatic deportment. The born diplomat, he was at his best when dealing with the French and Italian diplomats.’*Sokolow wanted to be president of the movement, but in fact he held this position only late in life and for but a short time. He was unfitted for leadership; temperamentally he was a cautious man, incapable of quick decision and inclined to stay above the battle. At the fateful Uganda debate he abstained from voting.
Mention has been made of Victor Jacobson, the first representative of the Zionist movement in Constantinople. In 1913 he was replaced as vice-president by Yehiel Chlenov. A Moscow physician and one of the leaders and founders of Russian Zionism, Chlenov was preferred to Ussishkin, his south Russian rival, because he was more conciliatory, a better diplomat and committee man. Lastly there was Dr Hantke, neither a great orator nor a prolific writer, but an ideal administrator without whose orderly mind and firm guiding hand the Berlin executive would have accomplished little.
It had been decided after Wolffsohn’s resignation that the Inner Action Committee, consisting of five to seven members, should be subject to the control of the Action Committee of twenty-five members, meeting not less than four times a year. These decisions were adhered to until, with the outbreak of war, Zionist activities were interrupted and international meetings on a large scale became virtually impossible. The Russian Zionist Federation no longer held back the funds it had collected; 127,000 Zionists throughout the world paid the shekel in 1912–13, more than ever before, even though collections in Russia fell that year as a result of police chicanery. The rise in revenue was badly needed, for the executive had to meet ever increasing expenses – £15,000 for salaries and office costs, for instance, in 1912–13.
The struggle for power had ended but the polemics between the political Zionists and the ‘practicians’ continued. The executive sent Professor Auhagen, an agricultural expert, to Palestine to report on the state of Jewish settlement and the progress of Warburg’s and Ruppin’s schemes. The official report sounded reassuring, but when Wolffsohn met Auhagen in private a less rosy picture emerged.* In Wolffsohn’s eyes it was a tale of woe, of bad planning and mismanagement. He was proud to have put the movement on a financially sound basis. Unlike Herzl he had succeeded in accumulating funds that would serve as a substantial lever once a charter had been obtained, whereas the advocates of ‘synthetic Zionism’, as he saw it, wanted to squander the money, maintaining that what had been collected ought to be invested immediately in new plantations or settlements. For when the great day of the charter came, even the three or four million pounds of the Colonisation Bank would be altogether insufficient.
The political Zionists criticised the new leaders for lack of initiative in their foreign policy, for missed opportunities to press Zionist claims – such as the peace conferences after the Balkan wars in 1912–13 – and above all for the one-sidedly pro-Turkish inclination of the executive. Such criticism was however largely academic, for as long as Turkey ruled Palestine, there simply was no political alternative.
The last congress before the war was on the whole less turbulent than the previous meetings, but there was still plenty of tension and conflict. Wolffsohn was slighted by the new leaders. According to custom, the presidency at the eleventh Zionist congress in September 1913 should have been offered to him. When the executive suggested that there should be two presidents, Wolffsohn and Chlenov, the former declined. Eventually the executive retreated and offered the presidency to Wolffsohn to prevent a split. The ‘practicians’ did not have it all their own way. Jean Fischer, a Belgian Zionist leader, demanded in an impassioned speech the appointment of a special political committee to engage in diplomatic activities. He warned his audience that the preoccupation with small-scale colonisation schemes would turn the Zionist movement into a poor man’s J.J.J. – the non-Zionist Colonisation Association.
Ruppin defended himself against his critics in a long speech in which he stressed that deficits were inevitable in any form of experimental colonisation. He was worried about the pitifully small scale of Zionist activities: ‘It is essential that our beginnings shall not be too small and the foundations not too narrow, for it is the beginning which sets and determines the possibilities of expansion in the future.’ Ruppin, who first went to Palestine in 1907 and settled there the following year, provided a detailed survey of the work that had been done under his supervision and upon his initiative. He admitted that he had been mistaken in expecting the newly founded farms to show a profit at the end of the first year. There had been too many unforeseen and unproductive expenditures. There was a basic difference between the yardsticks applied in private business and in a large-scale enterprise of national importance. Only those petrified in a purely business attitude would insist on immediate cash profits. Paying big dividends could not be the sole criterion. ‘I can say with absolute certainty: those enterprises in Palestine which are most profit-bearing for the businessman are almost the least profitable for our national effort; and per contra, many enterprises which are least profitable for the businessman are of high national value.’ If the transformation of city-dwellers into land-workers was to be guided by considerations of dividends, was it not equally sensible to demand that schools should be run on a profit basis?
The training of workers was an obvious case in point; it certainly would not show any profits in the ledger at the end of the year, but who would deny that it was an enterprise of essential national importance? Towards the end of his speech Ruppin made yet another point in justification of ‘practical Zionism’ which had never been made so clearly: ‘For a long time to come our progress in Palestine will depend entirely on the progress of our movement in the diaspora.’* This was a far cry from the early visions of Herzl and Nordau, the idea that there would be a wave of mass migration resulting in the establishment of a Jewish state, and that thereafter the state would be in a position to solve the Jewish question.
Ruppin was not a great orator, but his case was forceful and convincing and he got a big ovation. Compared to other Zionist leaders his background was unconventional. Born in eastern Germany, he had worked his way up against heavy odds. The extreme poverty of his boyhood was movingly described many years later in his autobiography.†Forced to leave high school at the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed to a firm of grain merchants, but he had already decided that he would reach the top of the ladder within a few years, earning enough money to finance the continuation of his studies. Having graduated from university in economics, philosophy and law – and having incidentally won a major prize for a study on genetics – he entered the legal profession. Later on he became interested in the sociology and demography of the Jews, a field little cultivated at the time. After some preliminary research he published a number of studies which remained standard works for many years. This was the man who at the age of thirty-one had been picked by the executive to be its representative in Palestine – hardly a dreamer, a visionary, an impractical intellectual. It was in some ways an unlikely choice: Ruppin was not even a committed Zionist at the time of the appointment. Yet no better man could have been selected. For more than three decades he showed an astonishing measure of foresight, initiative and humanity in all his actions. He was never in the limelight, but Jewish settlement in Palestine owes more to him than to anyone else.
At the congress which witnessed his first appearance there was also a long debate on cultural problems. Weizmann reported on the preparations for the establishment of a Jewish university in Jerusalem, following a resolution that had been passed in Herzl’s days by the fifth congress. For some Zionists this was an issue of paramount importance. Ahad Ha’am had declared at the first conference of Russian Zionists that one university was as important as a hundred settlements. A plot on Mount Scopus was acquired in 1913, a national library had been started in Jerusalem, and it was now proposed to establish a special commission to pursue the project. This aroused much enthusiasm: Bialik spoke of the great vista of the cultural revival. It was a relatively calm, unhurried congress after the storms of the previous years. Those present looked forward to years of steady, peaceful, constructive work in Palestine. ‘See you again at the next congress’, Wolffsohn said in his concluding address. But the following summer the war broke out, and the leaders of world Zionism were not in fact to see each other again for eight years, and when they next met the charter in which they had lost belief had become an established fact. Wolffsohn did not live to see that day; the second president of the Zionist movement died in September 1914, shortly after the outbreak of war.
‘What can be done in Palestine?’ Dr Ruppin asked after his first visit, and at once answered his question: ‘We must liquidate the Halukka system, which still provides most of the Jews with the largest part of their income, by the substitution of work.’* The second big immigration wave began the year Herzl died. Between 1905 and 1914 tens of thousands of new immigrants entered the country. In the year between the Vienna congress and the outbreak of war six thousand new arrivals were counted. As a result substantial changes took place in the social composition of the Jewish population, and a new impetus was given to economic and political development. It was only in 1908, with the establishment of the Palestine Office in Jaffa under Dr Ruppin, that the Zionist movement had begun to adopt a systematic colonisation policy. Until then plots had been acquired haphazardly by the Jewish National Fund (near Tiberias, Lydda, and along the Jerusalem-Jaffa railway). On the whole, Zionism had been preoccupied with criticising previous methods of settlement, mainly those of Baron Hirsch’s JCA rather than pointing to a clear alternative.
The means at the disposal of the Jewish National Fund were still extremely limited – about £50,000 in 1907 – but Ruppin was firmly resolved that a beginning had to be made to extend landholdings, establish new settlements, and consolidate those already existing. He decided to concentrate his efforts in areas not too far from the urban centres in which Jews already constituted a sizable proportion of the population, in Lower Galilee and Judaea.† For this purpose the Palestine Land Development Company (PLDC) was founded in 1908, to train Jewish workers for settling on land which was to be purchased in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund and JCA. The PLDC was instrumental in founding the various cooperative and communal settlements, whose early history is reviewed elsewhere in the present study. Between 1908 and 1913, some 50,000 dunam were bought in various parts of the country. On the day war was declared the Palestine Office was on the point of buying 140,000 dunam of the most fertile land in the Jesreel Valley, but the events of August 1914 prevented this and other major acquisitions.‡
Urban land was acquired on the slopes of Mount Carmel and north of Jaffa, where Tel Aviv was built, and by 1914 this new centre counted fifteen hundred inhabitants. Attempts to enlist private initiative were not particularly successful, but a number of small- and medium-scale enterprises were founded during the last prewar years, including a cement and brick factory, the cultivation and processing of sugar beet, and an engineering workshop. One of the biggest enterprises was launched by Bezalel, the arts school, specialising in the manufacture of carpets, wood carvings and similar articles. A Hebrew high school was founded in Jaffa and a teachers’ training college in Jerusalem, in addition to the technical high school and other institutions maintained by the German Hilfsverein. The foundations were laid for a network of purely Hebrew schools sponsored by the Zionist Organisation. Jerusalem had two daily newspapers in Hebrew, a National Library, several publishing houses, a sports association, a theatre club. The teachers’ association founded by Ussishkin counted 150 members. In public life Hebrew was used. Ahad Ha’am, professional pessimist though he was, admitted that a miracle had taken place, which he had thought impossible at the time of his first visit almost two decades earlier. For him and other cultural Zionists the emergence of a cultural centre was the most important development of all. Political activities and economic expansion were mere prerequisites, not ends in themselves. To all Zionists the resurrection of the Hebrew language was a major achievement, for a common language was obviously essential to any normal corporate national life.*
Despite the late start of organised economic and cultural activities in Palestine, the Zionist movement by 1914 had to its credit several important achievements. Jews in Palestine constituted a higher percentage of the total population than in any other country, and more of them were engaged in productive occupations than anywhere else. They had demonstrated that Jews could be farmers, and in the collective settlements they had developed new and highly original forms of communal life. The revival of the Hebrew language was a historical fact. It was no doubt premature to state, as Shmaryahu Levin did, that a new ‘totally Jewish type’ of man had already emerged.† But the experience of the second immigration wave had shown that there were enough Jews who wanted to settle in Palestine, despite the hardships and sacrifices entailed, and that, given a period of peaceful development and the goodwill of the Turkish authorities, there was every chance that the new Jewish community would grow in strength and one distant day attain greater political importance. But the whole enterprise was still on a diminutive scale, highly vulnerable, and almost totally dependent on the world Zionist movement and the Jewish communities abroad.
Although their numbers were growing quickly, the Arab population was also increasing, so that the absolute numerical difference was becoming greater. Jewish Palestine was a tender plant; the achievements of the last prewar decade could easily be undone by the deportation of a few thousand people, and this almost happened during the war.
The ‘political Zionists’ were not altogether wrong. It is doubtful whether, but for the war, Zionism would ever have attained any degree of autonomy. But they were wrong inasmuch as they tended to neglect opportunities to strengthen the Jewish position in Palestine. In the event every dunam worked by Jews counted when, after the war, the British mandate came into force. Jewish settlement was not only an important economic factor; it counted heavily in the political balance.
Zionism - East and West
With the spread of the movement the local federations began to play a greater part in Zionist politics. The Russian Federation was the strongest by far, Russia and Poland being the heartland of Zionism, for this was where the Jewish question was most acute. But while Russian Zionism had constituted the main opposition to Herzl and Wolffsohn, it did not play a constructive role commensurate with its numerical strength in the movement. It was labouring under various handicaps: its legal status was disputed, it was under almost constant attack from the authorities, and it lost by emigration to Palestine and other countries many of its most capable members. After 1905, the Russian Zionists became involved, inevitably perhaps, in Russian and Russian-Jewish politics, which absorbed much of their energies. In the Helsingfors programme their leaders voiced the demand for full national equality and the democratisation of Russian political life.
In elections to the Duma they cooperated with other Jewish groups in the effort to attain these aims - without any conspicuous success. There were thirteen Jewish representatives in the first Duma, six in the second, and two in the third. The authorities did not find it difficult to manipulate the results of the elections, as the Jews had to compete against both Russian voters and those of other nationalities. The electoral struggle in Poland brought them into conflict with the Polish national movement. When faced with the choice between a Polish nationalist with antisemitic leanings and a Polish Social Democrat, they opted for the latter. This in turn caused great resentment in Polish national circles and Jewish shops were boycotted. The revolutionary disturbances of 1905-6 were followed by years of repression, which strongly affected Zionist activities.
In Germany Zionism faced no such obstacles. Founded in Cologne in May 1897 shortly before the first congress, it was headed at first by Wolffsohn and Bodenheimer. Since they had no press of their own, German Zionists found it difficult to make their existence known to the wider public. The situation changed only with the acquisition of the Jüdische Rundschau in 1902. The number of shekel payers rose from 1,300 in 1901 to over 8,000 in 1914. (It was third in size after the United States and Russia, whose Jewish communities were much larger than the German.)*The members were dedicated men and women, some of them Ostjuden, recent arrivals from eastern Europe, others from assimilated families who felt acutely the anomaly of Jewish existence even in the relatively mild antisemitic climate of Wilhelmian Germany.
Among its leaders, apart from those already mentioned, there was Kurt Blumenfeld, a highly cultured man and a persuasive speaker, who was instrumental in gaining the support of eminent people outside the orbit of Zionism, such as Albert Einstein.†Blumenfeld was secretary of the German Federation from 1909 to 1911, later secretary of the world organisation, and from 1924 president of the German branch. Zionist attempts to establish positions of strength in the Jewish communal organisations were not at first successful. In the internal disputes shaking world Zionism the Germans at first tended to support Wolffsohn and the political trend, but the younger generation was gradually won over to practical Zionism by Weizmann and the Russian leaders, and after the ninth (Hamburg) congress their influence became predominant in the German Federation.
How to explain the fact that only a comparatively small minority of Jews joined the movement in Germany and that the majority was actively opposed? It has been said that German Jews, smitten by blindness and unaware of the precariousness of their situation, pursued an ostrich-like policy. Such post hoc rationalisations are of little help in understanding their situation at the time, which was anything but desperate. Even if some careers were barred to Jews, the majority were reasonably content and felt themselves at home in Germany. There was less antisemitism there than in France or Austria, not to mention eastern Europe. Despite certain unlovely features in its political system, Germany was a Rechtsstaat. It was unthinkable that any citizen could be arrested without due process of law. The state was sufficiently liberal to tolerate even a minority which proclaimed its allegiance to another state as yet to be established. When Kurt Blumenfeld propagated a radical programme, calling all Zionists to prepare themselves for emigration to Palestine, he was accused of trying to uproot German Jews artificially. His argument that they were in fact uprooted was by no means generally accepted even within Zionist circles.* It needed a world war and the general dislocation in its wake, and eventually the rise of Nazism, to attract wider sections to the Zionist idea.
Herzl had always attached particular importance to Britain and was much encouraged by the moral support he found among Anglo-Jewry. He first gave public expression to his ideas about the Jewish state at a meeting of the Maccabeans, a small association of Jewish professional people in London, in September 1895. The great assembly in White-chapel in July 1896 was his first encounter with the Jewish masses. These early expectations later gave way to disappointment. Neither the Rothschilds nor the Anglo-Jewish establishment were willing to embrace the new faith. But Herzl’s followers did not give up and with the outbreak of war British Zionism became a factor of decisive importance. The Lovers of Zion had been active in Britain even before Herzl. Among the oldest and most respected families, such as the Montefiores, the Montagues, and the D’Avigdors, there was a great deal of traditional, albeit platonic sympathy for the resettlement of Jews in Palestine. Herbert Bentwich and Israel Zangwill were among the organisers of the ‘Maccabean Pilgrimage’ to Palestine in 1897. In the following year the Clerkenwell conference, with Colonel Albert Edward Goldsmid as its chairman, laid the foundation for the establishment of a British Zionist Federation.† Most of the supporters of the movement were recent arrivals from eastern Europe, but there were also some from oldestablished families. Sir Francis Montefiore gave his name and some of his time to the movement. And Joseph Cowen (also English-born) and Leopold Greenberg were warm supporters of Herzl and, after his death, of political Zionism.
The majority of the community were, however, as in Germany, indifferent or even actively hostile. The secession of Zangwill and the ‘territorialists’ after the Uganda congress weakened the movement. Territorialism had the support of Lord Rothschild, the lay leader of Anglo-Jewry, and Lucien Wolf, its most influential ideologist, not, needless to say, because they contemplated transferring their own activities to Uganda, but because they thought the scheme likely to take the wind out of the Zionist sails. The movement suffered from the conflict between Herzlian and practical Zionists, and there was also much personal antagonism among the leaders. The crisis came to a head in 1909-10, when no one could be found to act as chairman of the federation.
For a while its very existence was in the balance. Eventually Joseph Cowen was prevailed upon to accept the thankless task. He was succeeded by Leopold Kessler, who had led the El Arish expedition. After 1912, with the appearance on the scene of a new generation of young Zionists, such as Leon Simon, Norman Bentwich, Harry Sacher, Israel Sieff and Simon Marks, there was a new expansion of activities. Together with Weizmann, who had settled in Manchester in 1904, they constituted the backbone of a revived movement. This was the ‘Manchester school of Zionism’, defined by one of its members as a fellowship of friends, brought together by a common cause and sharing a common approach under an unofficial leadership: ‘The old controversy between “politicals” and “practicals” had ebbed away as far as the younger generation was concerned for lack of combatants and a battleground … they were Zionists first and sectarians (if at all) a long way after.’* By 1914 the Zionist Federation of Great Britain had some fifty branches and during the war it gained many new adherents. A resolution in 1915 in favour of the establishment of a publicly recognised, legally secured home for the Jewish people in Palestine was signed by 77,000 members of the community.
Herzl’s summons to the first Zionist congress aroused little enthusiasm in America but a great deal of criticism, beginning with warnings that the weather in Palestine was inclement and ending with a reaffirmation of Israel’s mission among the goyim to promote peace, justice and love.† A few outsiders joined political Zionism, including a group of recent Russian immigrants in Chicago, who later became known as the Knights of Zion, and two rabbis of German-Jewish origin in their seventies – Gustav Gottheil and Bernhard Felsenthal, who welcomed Herzl’s call. American Zionism in the early days was anything but a strong force though on paper its federation, founded in New York in July 1898, looked impressive enough. It consisted of about a hundred societies with a membership of five thousand in New York alone. But this was a loose organisation consisting mainly of members of Hebrewspeaking clubs, Jewish educational societies, synagogue organisations, and fraternal lodges which had joined the federation corporatively.* Only in 1917 did the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) come into being; it substituted individual for group membership. American Zionists met at their yearly conventions, assured each other of their devotion to the cause, passed resolutions, sent delegations to the Zionist congresses, and a few bought land in Palestine. But despite the events in eastern Europe and the wave of pogroms which seemed to bear out Zionist analyses and predictions only too accurately, the impact of the movement was hardly felt in American life. Europe, after all, was far away and the situation of American Jewry and its prospects gave no cause for concern.
The movement was basically ‘East Side’ in character. It lacked money, prestige and political influence. Its leaders, on the other hand, were assimilated Jews such as Rabbi Stephen Wise, who at the age of twenty-four became secretary of the federation; Judah Magnes, another liberal rabbi, one of the few American Zionist leaders eventually to settle in Palestine; and Richard Gottheil – Rabbi Gottheil’s son – a distinguished orientalist, who was head of the federation from the beginning to 1904. He was replaced by Harry Friedenwald, a well-known physician, who held the post until 1912. But despite Stephen Wise’s effective oratory, Magnes’ boundless energy, and Lipsky’s excellent editorials (all three were at the time in their twenties), despite sustained organisational and educational work, the movement remained a sect. The breakthrough came during the early years of the war in Europe, when Brandeis became its leader. Brandeis was one of the most respected American lawyers, later a Justice of the Supreme Court. He was won over by Jacob de Haas, a British Zionist and close associate of Herzl, who had settled in America in 1901. Brandeis, in the words of another Zionist leader, was unrelated to any form of Jewish life, unread in its literature and unfamiliar with its tradition; he had to rediscover the Jewish people.† But once his imagination had been captured by the Zionist ideal he devoted much of his time and energy to the movement, whose president he was from 1914 until his appointment to the Supreme Court. It was the identification of Louis Brandeis with the movement more than any other single event which made Zionism a political force. To be a Zionist had suddenly become respectable.
But it was not Brandeis single-handed who made American Zionism what it was after the First World War. The movement grew steadily. The year before Brandeis took over, at the last Zionist congress before the war, the Americans were already represented by forty of their leading members – one of the strongest delegations. Shmaryahu Levin, who had been to America in 1906, returned there in 1913 and did a great deal to promote Zionist educational work. During the decade before the world war Zionist youth organisations were set up: the ‘Doctor Herzl Zion Clubs’ and ‘Young Judaea’; among the early members were Abba Hillel Silver, Emanuel Neumann, and other future leaders of American Zionism. In 1912 Hadassa, the Zionist women’s organisation, was founded with the declared aim of ‘promoting Jewish institutions and enterprises in Palestine and fostering Zionist ideals in America’. Over the years it became the largest and one of the most buoyant and active branches of the American movement.
Hadassa was led for many years by Henrietta Szold, a lady of uncommon talents and character, very much rooted in American life and at the same time a Zionist even before Herzl. She became famous later when, at the age of seventy-three, she took over the direction of Youth Aliya, the organisation which brought children from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine. A warm and sympathetic personality, ‘the captive of a cause’ up to the day of her death in 1945 at the age of eighty-five, she was remembered for what she did for thousands of men, women and children.* Thus American Zionism developed within a decade and a half from uncertain beginnings, the small meetings of Landsmannschaften in which the Hatiqva was sung and money collected, into a movement of considerable strength and influence. When war broke out it was able to shoulder the great political tasks suddenly facing it.
When the first South African Zionist conference took place in Johannesburg in July 1905, the Jewish community in that country, barely two decades old, numbered about forty thousand, but the Zionist movement was already deeply rooted, with about sixty local societies dispersed over a wide area. It had penetrated every town, village and dorp: ‘It had even reached the British protectorate of Bechuanaland … there were solitary Jewish traders living far out in the back veld, removed from every contact with Jewish life, but who still made efforts – desperate and pathetic efforts – to follow events in the Zionist world.’* South African Zionism was unique inasmuch as it encountered hardly any resistance in the community except on the part of a small group of Bundists. The South Africans were the most loyal supporters of Herzl, and later on of Wolffsohn; Wolffsohn, a Lithuanian Jew by origin like the majority of South African Jews, was given a royal welcome at the time of his visit in 1906. It was not just flattery when he told his audiences that the South African was the best organised of all Zionist federations. There was a period of decline in its activities between 1911 and the war, but recovery was rapid and South Africa remained one of the pillars of world Zionism.
Efforts to gain friends outside the Jewish community were not unsuccessful and proved in later years of great value, though hardly anyone would have anticipated it at the time. Milner became a sympathiser when he was high commissioner for South Africa, and General Smuts was also won over. He made a promise early in 1917 that he would do all he could to help the Zionist cause. A few months later he found himself, like Milner, a member of the inner circle of the British government at the very moment that the future of Palestine was at stake. Smuts had the reputation of a philo-semite, though in fact he had no special love for the Jews, who, he once wrote, did not warm the heart by graceful subjection: ‘They make demands. They are a bitter, recalcitrant little people like the Boers, impatient of leadership and ruinously quarrelsome among themselves.’ Smuts became a Zionist because it was a cause in which fundamental human principles were involved. Like Balfour and Lloyd George he saw in Zionism the redressing of a great historic wrong.†
Zionism was still a minority movement in the Jewish world, but its message had spread all over the globe. The report of the executive to the eleventh congress, the last before the war, mentions active Zionist associations not only in Cairo and Alexandria but also in most other Egyptian cities: ‘The six Jews who live in Mineh have all bought the shekel’.‡ Zionist activities were reported from the island of Rhodes and from Bulgaria, and even in the Fiji Islands there was a Zionist representative. In Italy, according to this account, the rabbis supported Zionism almost without exception. The two Jewish newspapers in Canada (which boasted thirty-three Zionist associations) were friendly. Progress was reported from Tunis. The percentage of shekel payers in Switzerland was among the highest in the world. In the Bukovina there were four Hebrew schools. Richard Lichtheim’s pamphlet on the aims of Zionism had been translated into Croat, and Elias Auerbach’s on Palestine into Dutch. In more than a hundred thousand Jewish homes all over the world the little blue cash box of the Jewish National Fund could be found. On a per capita basis South Africa, Belgium and Canada headed the list of contributors. It was a far cry from the beginnings of political Zionism only fifteen years earlier, when Herzl had run the whole movement from his apartment in Vienna, without, at first, even the help of a secretary. Zionism had become highly organised, a major force in the Jewish world. And yet despite the collections, the cultural and propagandist work, the enthusiasm of the rank and file, and the perseverance of the leaders, the realisation of its aims seemed in 1914 as remote as ever.
The history of Zionism before the First World War is reflected not only in the balance sheets of the Jewish National Fund and the minutes of the Zionist congresses. Any survey of its development would be incomplete without reference, however cursory, to the ideological debates that went on. The pamphlets of Pinsker and Herzl, however effective, had not exhausted the essence of Zionism; they provoked inside the movement occasional dissent and there were different interpretations of the aims and significance of the national revival. After Herzl’s death and the failure of political Zionism, the debate about the future of the movement entered a new stage of soul-searching and the reexamination of hitherto accepted truths. These discussions affected only small groups of young intellectuals. The great majority were ‘instinctive Zionists’ who needed no sophisticated ideological justification. This is not to say that the ideologists had no impact at all. Ahad Ha’am, for instance, influenced two generations of east European Jewish leaders, including Chaim Weizmann.
Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginzberg) was born in 1856 in Skvira near Kiev; received a traditional Jewish education, which left him unsatisfied; studied in Berlin, Vienna and Brussels; then moved first to Odessa and later to London, where he represented Visotsky, the leading Russian tea merchant. He settled in Tel Aviv in 1922 and died there five years later. Ahad Ha’am shied away from politics and speech-making; his strength was as a writer and teacher. He was for six years editor of Hashiloah, the leading Hebrew cultural periodical of the time. He wrote on a variety of topics: his essays on religion, on ethics and on general philosophical themes lie outside the scope of the present study. He was a Zionist well before Herzl, even though the essay which made him famous, ‘The Wrong Way’ (lo seh haderech), published in 1889, was a sharp critique of Zionism as practised at that time. In it he claimed that immigration to Palestine and settlement there as organised by the Lovers of Zion had been a failure. Those involved had been ill-prepared for their assignment, professionally as well as in a deeper sense. The first and foremost task of the Jewish national movement was to inspire its followers with a deeper attachment to national life and a more ardent desire for national well-being. This was a difficult aim, which could not be accomplished in a year or a decade.*
Ahad Ha’am was equally critical of Herzl and political Zionism; it pretended to bring the Jewish people back to Judaism, but in fact ignored all the basic questions of Jewish culture, of its language and literature, of education and the diffusion of Jewish knowledge. Political Zionism was a flash in the pan. It was bound to fail because the majority of Jews would not and could not emigrate to Palestine. It would not put an end to the Jewish problem, nor could it help to reduce antisemitism. The only gain of Herzlian Zionism would be the increasing respect on the part of other nations and, perhaps, the creation of a healthy body for the Jewish national spirit. But Ahad Ha’am doubted whether Jewish national consciousness and self-esteem were sufficiently strong for an assignment of this magnitude. Would this motive alone, unalloyed by any consideration of individual advantage, be sufficient to spur the Jews on to so vast and difficult a task? Ahad Ha’am doubted it. Western political Zionism could be a good thing for the western Jews who had forgotten all about their traditions. The idea of a state would induce them to devote their energies to the service of their nation. But in eastern Europe the political tendency could only do harm to the moral ideal of spiritual Zionism which Ahad Ha’am advocated throughout his life.†
In 1912, after another visit to Palestine, he felt somewhat more optimistic about the future of the country. He was confident that a national spiritual centre of Judaism was now in the making. Twenty years earlier it had seemed at best doubtful whether there would ever emerge a centre of study, or literature and learning, ‘a true miniature of the people of Israel as it ought to be which will bind all Jews together’. He still saw many defects wherever he looked. He did not, for instance, believe there would ever be substantial Jewish agriculture in Palestine. But he saw in Palestine in 1912 the beginnings of a national life unparalleled in the diaspora.* Political Zionism was on the way out. Practical Zionism, embracing both colonisation and cultural activity, had prevailed all the way along the line after Herzl’s death. This, he said, was not an abandonment of the national ideal, but on the contrary the healthy reaction of people who, unlike the leaders of political Zionism, were ruled unconsciously by the instinct of national self-preservation, for whom Judaism was the very centre of their being. A state such as Herzl had envisaged, bound together only by attacks on the part of the common enemy, would be at best a state of the Jews, not a Jewish state, for its citizens would not be imbued with a genuine Jewish national consciousness or a common cultural tradition.
It should be noted in passing that Ahad Ha’am’s nationalism was by no means religious in inspiration. He was an agnostic; to him religion was merely one form of the national culture. While Judaism, the national creative power, had expressed itself in the past mainly in a religious framework, it was by no means certain that this would necessarily be so in the future.† Ahad Ha’am’s attitude towards the future of the diaspora was somewhat ambiguous. He argued against Dubnow and others who expected a Jewish national revival outside Palestine, but he himself held that a spiritual centre would transform the scattered atoms of Jewry into a single entity with a definite character of its own, that it would accentuate their Jewishness, involving both an extension of the area of their personal lives within which the differences between them and their non-Jewish neighbours had significance, and a heightened sense of belonging to the Jewish people.‡
Ahad Ha’am repeated his warnings about political Zionism even after it had achieved success with the Balfour Declaration: ‘Do not press on too quickly to the goal!’ But such exhortations apart, it is not easy to point to any concrete programme in his teachings. He was concerned not with the political crisis facing the Jews but with the cultural crisis of the Jewish people in the diaspora. He admitted that he had no panacea for the salvation of the Jews as individuals, but was preoccupied with the rescue of Judaism as a spiritual entity. Many contemporaries, Zionists and non-Zionists alike, drew the conclusion that for Ahad Ha’am the existence of a Jewish majority in Eretz Israel was not an essential condition for the creation of such a centre.* ‘Ahad Ha’amism’, a Jewish Vatican, was adopted by some as an alternative to the idea of a Jewish state. This was not apparently what he had meant. In a letter written in 1903, Ahad Ha’am stated expressis verbis: ‘Palestine will become our spiritual centre only when the Jews are a majority of the population and own most of the land.’† But such statements were infrequent in his published writings, and if Ahad Ha’am has been misunderstood in this respect it was above all his own fault. His sole interest was the cultural centre. The rest he took for granted and did not bother to make it clear how the political and economic infrastructure of this centre was to be created.
There were other weaknesses and inconsistencies in Ahad Ha’am’s thought. He was not the Herder of Jewish nationalism as his disciples believed. His spiritual ideals and the uniqueness of the Jewish culture which he invoked so frequently were not clearly presented. He took it more or less for granted that Jewish culture and Hebrew had to be revived. While pointing to the spiritual poverty of western Jews, his own concepts of nation and nationalism were not in the Jewish tradition, but shaped by western philosophical and political thought. He based his postulate of national existence on a somewhat nebulous concept and wrote about the future of Jewish culture in isolation from political, social, and economic factors – as if it were possible to build (or revive) a culture in a vacuum. He was right in his assumption that only a relatively small part of the diaspora would find shelter in the Jewish state. More Jews eventually settled in Palestine than Ahad Ha’am had anticipated, and yet it was not at all clear whether the state would ever be the spiritual centre of world Jewry. The new cultural life did not, on the whole, harmonise with Ahad Ha’am’s hopes. His doctrine was based in part on a Darwinian notion of the will to survive of the national ego, and in part on Jewish ethics. His concept of Jewish ethics made him oppose political Zionism and power politics in general. He did not realise that in a world in which the situation of the Jews was rapidly deteriorating, these two strands in his thought were bound to clash, and that the Jews who wanted to survive as a group had no alternative but to engage in power politics.
The chief philosophical influences on Ahad Ha’am were the positivist thinkers of the last century: Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Renan, and the Jewish Haskala. With Martin Buber, his junior by almost twenty years, we move from the tradition of rationalism into the realm of neoromanticism. Whereas Ahad Ha’am exerted a powerful influence on sections of the east European Jewish intelligentsia but remained almost totally unknown in the west, Buber’s influence in Jewish circles was limited to intellectuals in Prague, Vienna and Berlin, and to sections of the German-Jewish youth movement. He had no impact on east European Jewry, whereas in German and, later on, in American intellectual life his name was one to conjure with.
Born in Vienna of a family of well-known Galician rabbis, Martin Buber spent his adult life in central Europe, and emigrated to Jerusalem in 1938, where he taught at the Hebrew University. A man of wide erudition, he developed an original if some what intangible philosophicaltheological system which, although it advocated a return to the origins of Judaism, was rejected by most of his contemporaries as un-Jewish. The main formative influences on Buber during his early years were the two great German mystics of the Middle Ages, Meister Eckhart and Jakob Böhme. From them Buber derived his concept of pantheism, the need for a deeper link with the outside world, the unity of all living matter in God. There was a God-given harmony in the world. Man had become alienated from this harmony, but could return to it by listening to the voice of inner experience, to intuition. Later on Buber discovered in the ecstasy of the Hassidic sects of eastern Europe the genuine mystical experience which led to unity with God and the world.* He introduced the forgotten Hassidic legends to western Europe, and in a series of speeches on Judaism and the future of the Jewish people provided a new Weltanschauung for the young intellectuals joining the Zionist movement.†
Buber had been an early Zionist. He was also among the first who together with Berthold Feiwel (and in opposition to Herzl) stressed the necessity of immediate practical work instead of waiting for that distant day when the elusive charter would be won. He had been an admirer of Ahad Ha’am but soon went his own way in his search for a new philosophy. By accepting the then fashionable antimony between myth and intellect, organism and mechanism, Gemeinschaft (i.e. the organically living, genuine community) and Gesellschaft (the mechanical, artificial aggregate of conflicting interests), he moved dangerously close to the neighbourhood of the irrational, anti-liberal doctrines which infested European intellectual life during the decades before 1914. This impression of ideological proximity was further deepened by Buber’s frequent references to the ‘community of blood’, by the central place of Volk and völkisch in his early thought. It is only fair to add that for Buber these were spiritual concepts which had nothing in common with the outpourings of the predecessors of German racialism.*
Far from being an aggressive nationalist, Buber sympathised with pacifism and within the Zionist movement belonged to the minimalist trend, advocating a bi-national state. The vocation of Israel as the elect of God was not Jewish nationalism, with national egoism as the highest goal, but humanism, a truly supernational task. Israel was predestined to play such a role because it was a nation unlike any other. Since its earliest beginnings it had been both a nation and a religious community. ‘Blood’ for Buber was not a biological factor but the concept of the continuity of a people, experience inherited from the past, the creative mystery transmitted from one generation to the next.
His main preoccupation in later years was the search for identity on the part of the individual. Unlike the political, ‘instinctive’ Zionists, he did not take Jewish identity for granted, and antisemitism as a unifying factor did not satisfy him. Buber was concerned (to use the words of Moritz Heimann) with the spiritual problems of a Jew alone on a desert island. In his search to give deeper moral and religious (not in the orthodox sense) significance to the national idea he accepted Fichte’s dictum that nationalism was to fulfil in modern times the function once held by religion, to infuse the eternal element, the constant values into daily life. Like Ahad Ha’am, Buber rejected the diaspora, as responsible for the degeneration of the Jewish creative urge: Judaism as a result of the diaspora had become spiritually barren.
He believed in a great mission for the Jewish, the holy people, which by returning to Eretz Israel would unite organic nature with the divine mission. In their life as a nation the Jews had the great opportunity to make a reality of (verwirklichen, one of the key words in Buber’s philosophy) truth and justice in an organic unity. To them uniquely was it open to build a new society, a way of life and faith united by dialogue (another of Buber’s key concepts), mutual influence, reciprocal relations, by common land and labour. Unkind spirits have dismissed Buber’s philosophy as irrelevant to Zionism, the abstruse ideas of a highly erudite aesthete. What Ahad Ha’am said about political Zionism certainly applied to Buber’s philosophy: east European Jewry did not need it; at best it could be of benefit to the assimilated Jews in the west at a time of spiritual crisis. East European Jewry had little use for Buber’s emphasis on the Asian character of Judaism, contrasting ‘oriental boundlessness’ with the European intellectual tradition, the claim that Zionism was to act as mediator between Asian and European culture myths and the élan vital. An activist movement by its very nature, Zionism did not need a philosophy of spirit and action as provided by Buber.
Buber early on withdrew from active politics, and only late in life made a comeback as an advocate of Jewish-Arab cooperation. He continued on occasion to provide philosophical comment on world affairs, to the joy of his admirers and the bewilderment of the rest. Thus, he interpreted the First World War as a great ‘Asian crisis’, which would enable the people of central Europe to participate in public life, revitalise Russia, and save the Near East for a Semitic renaissance. If this sounds not very precise, it is a fairly typical example of what irritated many of Buber’s contemporaries: the dark hints, the mysterious phrases concerning subjects which above all needed precision and clarity. Buber’s appearances at Zionist congresses did not have a great impact. Weizmann, whose own tendency was towards simplicity, referred to him, perhaps a little unfairly, as a rather odd and exotic figure, a good friend who often irritated him by his stilted talk, full of forced expressions and elaborate similes without clarity or beauty.
Buber found disciples among the Jewish students in central Europe who believed with him that Zionism was not yet the national revival, but was merely preparing the way for it. They shared his belief in the need to resuscitate the Jewish souls crippled by arid rationalism. The search for the creative force of the spirit was a Jewish manifestation of the neo-romantic Zeitgeist, with Buber as its most effective prophet. It was, in the words of Hans Kohn, a youth movement directed against the old, the tired, the lazy who could no longer be moved by enthusiasm. Zionism thus interpreted could not be argued about: ‘It is not knowledge but life.’* It is easy to dismiss the anti-intellectual fashions of the prewar period, but this does not help us to understand the spirit of the young generation. For Zion, after all, was a myth, and Zionism, like all other national movements, was essentially romantic in character. No one could prove rationally that Zionism was justified and that it had a future. What attracted even young Marxists to Palestine was not scientific analysis, but romantic idealism and a myth. Buber’s attempt to provide a new sense of direction was certainly not unnatural in the context of the times.
Buber formulated the aim of the young generation as ‘to become human and in a Jewish way’ (Mensch werden und es jüdisch werden). Berdichevsky (Micha bin Gurion), who came from a distinguished family of rabbis and did not have to re-acquaint himself with Hassidism, disagreed. He did not see any discrepancy between humanity and Judaism. The source of the evil was that the living Jews had become secondary to abstract Judaism, an anomaly which had led to total decay. The Jewish revival could not just be a spiritual revival (at this point he was bound to clash with Ahad Ha’am); it would have to encompass both inner and outer life. Jewish tradition, scholarship and religion could no longer be the basic values. A total overturn, a ‘transvaluation of all values’ (shades of Nietzsche!) was needed.* The Jews no longer had a living culture, nor could such a culture be artificially grafted on them from without. Every culture was the end of a process, not a fresh beginning induced from without. As one of his interpreters put it: the Jews needed Jerusalem, the living, not Javne, the spiritual centre.†
The balance sheet of diaspora history had been totally negative: a rebirth of the Jewish people was the commandment of the hour. But this could be achieved only by a deliberate severance from tradition, or at any rate from much of it. The present generation was called upon not to be the last Jews, but the first of a new nation, the Hebrews, men and women with a new relation to nature and life. Berdichevsky’s thought had a certain impact on Labour Zionism, and in particular the kibbutz movement, but it also led well beyond Zionism. For in his view Zionism had not been radical enough in its rejection of the past. It had not realised that the whole of Jewish history in the diaspora had been a mistake. Instead it had tried to connect old and new ideas, getting caught in the process in some form of religious romanticism. Berdichevsky’s iconoclasm did not have a wide appeal when it was first voiced around the turn of the century. But half a century later, as a new nation was born in Israel, different in many respects from the Jewish people in the diaspora, the issues first raised by Berdichevsky assumed a new meaning and urgency.
Other critics of spiritual Zionism shared the view that Zionism was not radical enough, since it did not envisage the total liquidation of the diaspora. Reinterpreting Jewish history, Yecheskel Kaufman, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, accused the Jewish national movement of being deflected from its purpose by attributing (like religious Jewry) a special sense to Jewish existence in the diaspora. What was needed was not the revival of Hebrew culture, or the social regeneration of a minority, but a solution for the existence of the Jewish people. This, for historical and sociological reasons, could not be found in the diaspora, and for that reason the resettlement of the great majority of the Jewish people was needed.
Even more radical in his approach was Jacob Klatzkin. Born in Russia, he lived for many years in Germany, where his most important essays were published, and later on moved to America. He saw the originality of Zionism in its emphasis on form, not content; without a national territory and a national language nationalism in the diaspora had no meaning, and assimilation was the logical way out for the modern Jew. As for Zionism, the longing for a return to the homeland was an end in itself. The wish to create a base for the spiritual values of Judaism was a secondary consideration: ‘The content of our life will be national when its form becomes national.’ A new, secular definition of Jewish identity was needed, instead of philosophising about the essence of Judaism, with its definitions of the Jewish spirit in abstract terms, its references to messianic ideas and the ideal of social justice. Klatzkin felt that the spirit of Judaism could not guarantee the survival of Judaism. Its survival in the diaspora was no guarantee against its disappearance in the near future.
Total assimilation was in Klatzkin’s view not only possible, it might even be inevitable.* This was not necessarily a matter of great regret, for the Judaism of the diaspora was not worthy of survival. The diaspora could only prolong the disgrace of the Jewish people, disfigured in both body and soul.† It was no accident that Zionism arose in the west, not in the east. It was not the Jew, but the man in Herzl which brought him back to his people; not Jewish, but universal national consciousness. The east viewed Zionism as a mere continuation of Jewish tradition, not a world-destroying and world-building movement. Eastern Europe did not have to the same extent the universal human elements, the feeling for liberty and honour, the quest for human dignity, truth and integrity which were required for a national renaissance.* Klatzkin conceded that the diaspora, even if it was an abnormality, would have to be preserved for the sake of the revival in Palestine. But once Palestine had been established as a national centre two Jewish nations would gradually emerge – the one in the diaspora, and the Hebrew nation in Israel; and as time went on they would have less and less in common.† He was at his most effective in his critique of Ahad Ha’am and Buber, the advocates of diaspora nationalism and the apostles of a spiritual mission. His direct impact during his lifetime (he died in 1948) was limited, despite the original and provocative character of his analysis of the Jewish predicament.
Like Ahad Ha’am, Klatzkin did not bother to point to political alternatives. The apostle of radical Zionism and rejection of the diaspora by no means approved of the activities of political Zionism. He had grave doubts about Britain and the effects of the Balfour Declaration. But if he saw any alternative way of building the national home he kept the secret to himself. Perhaps he saw himself in the role of a consultant physician who was essentially a diagnostician. The telling phrases about the crippling effects of the diaspora were written not in Jerusalem, but in Murnau, a pleasant little village in Bavaria, Klatzkin’s retreat, and in Heidelberg. Klatzkin did not settle in Palestine, and he was to die in Switzerland. The unity of theory and practice cannot be found in his life, nor in that of most of the other ideologists and leaders of Zionism of that generation. For that reason, if for no other, there was always an element of unreality in the passionate debates that went on for so many years about a spiritual centre, the rejection of the diaspora, and the mission – if any – of a regenerated Jewish people. The debates usually revealed a profound disregard for realities, and the real world, not surprisingly, retaliated by ignoring the philosophers.
Zionism in the First World War
When the First World War broke out, two of the members of the Zionist executive, then located at 8 Sächsische Strasse, Berlin, were German citizens, three were Russians, and one (Levin) a Russian who had just acquired Austrian citizenship. World Zionism, needless to say, was no more prepared than any other international organisation to function in wartime. That the world movement was to stay out of the conflict and remain neutral went without saying, but this was easier said than done. For the Zionist leaders throughout Europe, with the obvious exception of Russia, felt it their duty to support their respective fatherlands to the best of their ability. This conflict of loyalties apart, there was the question of protecting Palestinian Jewry. Above all, there was the issue of the postwar settlement. Some Zionist leaders realised early on that what their movement had failed to attain in time of peace it might well achieve during or after a war which was bound to lead to a re-examination of many unresolved international issues.
German Zionists shared the general patriotic enthusiasm of August 1914. Their federation announced that it expected all its young members to volunteer for military service. Germany was fighting for truth, law, freedom and world civilisation against darkest tyranny, bloodiest cruelty, and blackest reaction, as represented by tsarist despotism. By allying themselves with Russia, France and Britain had become its accessories in crime. Franz Oppenheimer said that for Germany the war ‘was holy, just self-defence’, and Ludwig Strauss wrote that the national Jews were no worse patriots than national Germans. ‘We do know that our interest is exclusively on the side of Germany’, ran an editorial in the official Zionist weekly; Germany was strong and would liberate the oppressed.* Zionist publications wholeheartedly supported the war effort. It would be invidious to single out any Zionist leader for special mention because almost all were equally affected, at least during the first months of the war.† In Austria, Hugo Zuckermann, a Zionist, wrote a popular war poem in which he said that death on the field of battle held no terror for him if only before dying he could see the Austrian banner waving in the wind over Belgrade. Zuckermann was killed soon after. Elias Auerbach, the Zionist physician who had settled in Haifa, decided immediately on the outbreak of war to return to Germany to do his duty in the army medical corps.
The patriotic enthusiasm of the German and Austrian Zionists seems in retrospect singularly misguided, but it is only fair to add that the war against Russia was equally popular in eastern Europe and the United States, the two biggest Jewish concentrations. Upon receiving the news about Russian defeats Morris Rosenfeld, the most popular Yiddish writer of the day, wrote a poem which ended with the words: ‘Hurrah for Germany! Long live the kaiser!’ Tsarist Russia was the country of pogroms, of Kishinev and Homel, of institutionalised oppression. The fact that after the outbreak of war the persecution of Jews in western Russia became even more intense, and that hundreds of thousands of them had been deported, did not make that country any more popular. Most leaders of Russian and Polish Jewry believed in the inevitability of a German victory. For them, as Weizmann wrote, the west ended at the Rhine. They knew Germany, spoke German, and were greatly impressed by German achievements.* And they were influenced by the painful history of the Jews in Russia. A Russian victory would perpetuate and perhaps intensify the persecution of east European Jewry, whereas the defeat of Russia was bound to open the gates to their liberation.
There were exceptions, such as Weizmann and Ahad Ha’am, Jabotinsky and Rutenberg. Nordau, too, warned against a one-sided pro-German orientation, despite the fact that the French had given him every reason to feel aggrieved; having lived in Paris for decades, he was deported to Spain as an enemy national and remained there throughout the war. But the greater part of the world Zionist movement was pro-German, even though it became more reserved after the first flush of excitement. Historical sympathies and antipathies quite apart, a strong case could be made for the importance of Berlin to Zionists. Effective political and economic aid to the hard-pressed Palestinian Jewish community could be extended only from the German capital during the first three years of the war. During this time the German armies advanced far into western Russia and the bulk of Polish and Lithuanian Jewry came under German rule. Whichever way one looked at it, Berlin was the pivot as far as Zionist politics were concerned.
A few days after the outbreak of war Dr Bodenheimer, a former president of the German Zionist Federation and still one of its leading members, approached the German Foreign Ministry and suggested the establishment of a German ‘Committee for the Liberation of Russian Jewry’. Set up in August 1914, this body later on changed its name to the somewhat less provocative ‘Committee for the East’. The committee was dominated at first by the Zionists – Professor Oppenheimer was its chairman, Motzkin and Hantke took part in its work, and Sokolow wrote the editorial for the first issue of its Hebrew-language journal Kol hamevaser.† Its aim was to promote the aspirations of east European Jewry towards national freedom and autonomy, and the underlying expectation was that Germany would, in the course of the war, occupy western Russia, where most of the Jews lived. This was done with the blessing of the German authorities, who had a somewhat exaggerated notion of the extent of Zionist influence in the east, one of their advisers comparing the internal discipline of the Zionists to that of the Jesuits.*
These ‘Jewish operations’ were part of a general scheme to revolutionise the oppressed minorities of the tsarist empire. But German military rule did not altogether fulfil the expectations of east European Jewry, which had been called upon to rise against Russian oppression. The demand for political and cultural autonomy was largely ignored because it clashed with the aims of the Polish and Baltic national movements. The Poles in particular became more and more openly antisemitic during the war, and at its end engaged in widespread pogroms. The tsarist anti-Jewish legislation was abolished only in the northern section (Ober-Ost) of the occupied territory. The constitution of the committee changed during the war and representatives of non-Zionist German Jews were co-opted.
The existence of the committee became a bone of contention among the world Zionist leaders and forced them to reconsider their orientation as between the two camps. Bodenheimer at first had the support of the executive, although his activities were in clear violation of Zionist neutrality. The critics of the one-sided pro-German orientation argued that, all other considerations apart, such close cooperation with German political warfare jeopardised millions of east European Jews, for the activities of the committee, needless to say, remained no secret, and served as a justification for the anti-Jewish measures taken by the Russian government in 1914-15. Bodenheimer was compelled by his colleagues to resign as chairman of the Jewish National Fund.
To keep the world movement neutral, a meeting of the Larger Action Committee in Copenhagen in December 1914 (the first after the outbreak of war) decided to open a clearing-house there under Motzkin, and later under Victor Jacobson, to maintain contact with Zionist organisations in both camps, and as far as possible to coordinate their efforts. Weizmann’s demand that the executive, still located in Berlin under the management of Warburg and Hantke, should cease to function and that the conduct of Zionist affairs should be transferred to America during the war was rejected, on the ground that it might endanger the position of Palestinian Jewry. As a compromise it was decided to transfer Sokolow from Berlin to London and to send Chlenov on a mission to America and Britain, from where he returned to his native Russia.*
The dispersal of the members of the executive was inevitable, given the necessity to pursue political activities in several capitals at one and the same time, but it paralysed the executive. Who was now authorised to take decisions or even make declarations on its behalf? It was understood that the Berlin members had the authority to speak for the whole body, but they were a minority and disagreements were bound to arise sooner or later. It was also decided that the executive could not be party to any negotiations with the government of any country at war with Turkey. Weizmann, who was as pro-British as the German Zionists were pro-German, was not in sympathy with this resolution. Two months earlier he had written to Shmaryahu Levin that ‘as soon as the situation is somewhat cleared up, we could talk plainly to England and France with regard to the abnormal situation of the Jews. … It is in the interest of peoples now fighting for the small nationalities to secure for the Jewish nation the right of existence. Now is the time when the peoples of Great Britain, France and America will understand us. … The moral force of our claims will prove irresistible; the political conditions will be favourable to the realisation of our ideal.’† Unknown to Weizmann, his optimism was shared by Herbert Samuel, an influential politician of whom it had not even been known that he sympathised with Zionist aspirations. Samuel was a member of Asquith’s Liberal cabinet, and he submitted a memorandum to his colleagues in which he argued the case for a national home for the Jews in Palestine. While this bore no fruit – Asquith was totally uninterested – it was a first step in preparing the ground for the dramatic developments of 1917.
During the early phases of the war, however, Berlin remained the centre of Zionist political activities. It was the task of the executive located there to safeguard the interests of east European Jewry as large sections of it passed under German rule, and to protect the Zionist settlements in Palestine.‡ It was Weizmann’s historical achievement that, in the event, Britain’s victory became also a Zionist triumph. His efforts were crowned with success precisely because he held no official position in the world Zionist movement. It is easy to imagine how Turkey, forever suspicious of Zionist activities, would have reacted if the executive had followed Weizmann’s line and shown itself in 1914 in favour of an Allied victory.
Official German attitude to Zionism was distant but not altogether unfriendly. Herzl’s attempts to gain the support of the Kaiser had been unsuccessful, and up to 1914 Germany took no steps to intervene on behalf of the Zionist movement. With the outbreak of war the attitude became somewhat more positive. The German leaders did not want to antagonise the Zionists because of their influence among east European Jewry and in the United States. Bethmann Hollweg, the chancellor, and Wangenheim, the German ambassador in Constantinople, tried on various occasions to impress Talaat, then minister of the interior at the Porte, to refrain from actions which would provoke world Jewry. Between 1914 and 1917 German diplomatic representatives frequently interceded, albeit only informally, with the Turkish authorities on behalf of Palestinian Jewry.* Most of these interventions concerned Djemal Pasha, the Turkish commander in Palestine, who was determined to deport all Jews of Russian nationality, i.e. the majority of the Jewish population.
He made the first attempt in December 1914, shortly after Turkey’s entry into the war, and it was successfully thwarted, but not in time to save six hundred Jews who had already been deported. There were further sporadic arrests and other forms of chicanery, and it was not until March 1915 that the central authorities succeeded in persuading their representative in Jerusalem to leave the Jews in peace. Eventually Djemal took notice, at least for a time. Then, after a few months, he began to reassert himself and compelled Ruppin, head of the Palestine Office and a German national, to move from Jaffa to the Turkish capital. But by and large the years 1915-16 were relatively quiet years for Palestinian Jewry, owing mainly to the activities of the German Zionist representatives in Constantinople and the support they had in Berlin.
The executive was less successful in realising its more ambitious schemes. It gained the support of several influential publicists who wrote in the German press about the increasing importance of Zionism as a factor in world politics. In November 1915, on Zionist prodding, a confidential instruction was sent to all German consular representatives in the Ottoman empire to the effect that the German imperial government was well disposed towards Jewish aspirations in Palestine.* But it proved impossible to induce Berlin to make an official declaration in support of Zionism, despite the fact that a non-committal statement was recommended not only by Jewish circles but also by various German diplomats.† A pro-Palestine committee consisting of well-known public figures was set up in 1917 to influence public opinion and to exert pressure on the German government. At the same time the news about the contacts between Dr Weizmann and British statesmen, and the increasing measure of favourable attention paid to Zionism in British and French publications, were brought to the attention of the German government. But Berlin was not willing to bring even greater pressure on its Turkish allies, and would probably have failed if the attempt had been made.
When Djemal Pasha visited Berlin in August 1917, he told Hantke and Lichtheim that he was still hostile to the idea of a Jewish Palestine, since he had to take into account the feelings of the Arab population. He might reconsider his views one day but there would be no change in Turkish policy while the war was on.‡ In a conversation with the German ambassador shortly before the Balfour Declaration, Djemal said he would be willing to concede a national home to the Jews, but for what purpose, since the Arabs would only kill them.§ The Turks would have greatly preferred not to make any concessions at all, but there was no doubt that if hard-pressed they would opt for the Arabs. This must have been clear to the Germans, who reached the conclusion that the goodwill of the Zionists was not worth a major crisis in their relations with the Turks.
Zionist policy in Germany thus failed to reach its objective. But ironically enough, the efforts to enlist German help had considerable indirect repercussions. The news about the talks between the German representatives and the Zionists was noted in London and Paris; so were the pro-Zionist articles in the German press. While Hantke, Blumenfeld and Lichtheim impressed on their Berlin contacts that England was about to make an important pro-Zionist declaration, Weizmann used the reverse argument in his dealings with the British cabinet and the Foreign Office: unless the British hurried the central powers would come out first and secure an important advantage. It is impossible to establish with absolute certainty whether Weizmann was misinformed or whether he deliberately exaggerated the threat of a German Balfour Declaration, knowing full well that it would not be forthcoming.* Believers in the conspiracy theory of history will no doubt be inclined to search for the hidden hand, a Machiavellian plot between the Zionists in London and Berlin. But there was in fact no coordination. On the contrary, Weizmann kept his talks with British statesmen very much to himself. Frequently he did not inform even close friends, let alone the Copenhagen Bureau or Berlin. The German Zionists had made less headway, but they too had not reported to Weizmann about their moves. Each side, in brief, was in the dark in 1917 about the achievements and failures of the other.
The British government, at any rate, took the news seriously, and when the talks in the war cabinet dragged on, Balfour announced on 4 October 1917 that a decision had to be taken soon since the German government was making great efforts to gain the support of the Zionist movement.†
With the publication of the Balfour Declaration, London became the centre of the world Zionist movement even though parts of Palestine remained in Turkish hands until well into 1918. The Berlin executive fully realised that the initiative had now passed to the other side. It did not grudge Weizmann his success and welcomed the Declaration as an event of immense historical importance.‡ It continued to press the German and Turkish governments for a statement similar to the Declaration which would open the gates of Palestine to large-scale immigration and provide political and cultural autonomy. Towards the end of the war the German Zionists won the support of the leading non-Zionist Jewish organisation for a scheme which provided less than a national home but which was more than any of them had dared to hope in 1914. But this was in 1918 and the whole issue had become academic, for Jerusalem, Jaffa, and the whole of southern Palestine were by that time in British hands. The occupation of the rest of the country was merely a question of time. If the German Zionists nevertheless continued to press their demands it was no doubt with an eye to the coming peace conference. Now that the Balfour Declaration had received the blessing of the other allied powers, their intention was to gain the support of the central powers as well so that there would be unanimity with regard to Palestine’s future.
The First World War was the watershed for America’s involvement in world affairs. It was also the breakthrough which made American Jewry the decisive factor in the councils of world Jewry. American Jews had taken an interest in the fate of their less fortunate co-religionists in Russia and Rumania even before 1914, but it was only during the war that, owing to America’s new might, the financial position of the Jewish community, and, during the early years of the war, America’s neutrality, that the Jews there assumed the leading role. During the war years Zionism made a spectacular advance. There had been only twelve thousand organised Zionists in America in 1914. They gained a mass following during the following years as the conviction grew that the war would bring in its wake a solution of the Jewish question and perhaps even result in the establishment of a Jewish state. Individuals as well as groups began to join the organisation, and there was a movement afoot to organise the entire Jewish community in support of Zionist demands.
Shortly after the outbreak of war the suggestion was made to establish a body to represent the whole of American Jewry, to represent its interests, with special reference to eastern Europe, and to state the Jewish cause at the peace conference. The proposal was strongly resisted by the American-Jewish establishment, united in the American Jewish Committee. Other anti-Zionist groups, such as the Bund, tried to take over the movement from the Zionists. But the response on the part of the masses was enormous and, fearing isolation, the opponents too eventually came to join the drive. Public opinion veered more and more towards Zionism. Leading members of the establishment, like Louis Marshall and Jacob Schiff, who only a few years earlier had dissociated themselves from Zionism, came to adopt a more positive attitude. A preparatory conference was held in 1916, and it became the declared policy of all American Jewish organisations not only to press for equal rights for east European Jewry but also to secure Jewish rights in Palestine.*
Brandeis, who was to play a decisive part in these activities, had appeared for the first time on a Zionist platform one year before the outbreak of war. After it started, he was elected chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs. It was at first expected that the executive would be transferred to the United States, but even though this did not take place, the new body was to play a role of considerable importance. The provisional committee helped to coordinate the rescue efforts for Palestinian Jewry, which, cut off from Europe, was facing economic ruin. America’s diplomatic representatives in Turkey - Jews by unwritten tradition - such as Morgenthau and Elkus - played a role second only to the Germans as protectors of the yishuv. They intervened countless times with the Porte against the deportation orders issued in Jerusalem and Jaffa.
Brandeis was almost sixty when he undertook his new role as Jewish statesman. He had been remote from Jewish affairs and he never failed to emphasise that he had come to Zionism wholly as an American. He saw no problem of divided loyalties. In the same way as every Irish-American who supported Home Rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice involved, he once wrote, every American Jew who helped to advance Jewish settlement in Palestine would likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so.* Brandeis was the first leader of American Zionism who was at the same time a figure of national prominence. An eminently successful and popular lawyer, a friend and consultant of leading politicians, he was in line for a leading position in the government when Woodrow Wilson formed his first administration in 1913, although the president encountered resistance because Brandeis, ‘the people’s attorney’, had made many enemies among the rich, and there was also still much anti-Jewish feeling. Wilson instead nominated him to the Supreme Court. After the nomination had gone through, he wrote to Morgenthau that he never signed any commission with such satisfaction.†
Brandeis’ prestige, his reputation as one of President Wilson’s close advisers, was an asset of which ‘full use was made by the Zionist leaders in London in their dealings with the British government’. London closely followed developments on the American domestic scene. Its aim was to induce America to join the war against the central powers as soon as possible. The British were aware that while most of the leaders of American Jewry were pro-British (with few exceptions, such as Magnes and Shmaryahu Levin), the Jewish masses were anti-Russian and welcomed Russian defeats while not necessarily rejoicing at German victories. A change in this respect began to set in only in 1916-17. The Jews of German descent who had supported the kaiser were antagonised by such events as the German sinking of the Lusitania, whereas the immigrants from eastern Europe were greatly cheered by the revolution of March 1917, which gave equal rights to Russian Jewry.
Balfour met Brandeis twice during his visit to Washington in April 1917, and American Jewry’s interest in Palestine was impressed on him. In September 1917 the war cabinet decided to find out whether President Wilson thought it advisable to issue a declaration of sympathy with the Zionist movement. Much to Weizmann’s surprise and chagrin, Wilson, acting apparently on the advice of Colonel House, answered that the time was not opportune for any definite statement, other than one of sympathy, and this only on condition that it could be made without implying any real commitment.* Wilson may have been uneasy about an exclusive British declaration, but on the other hand he had no intention of committing America. Colonel House had told him that the English ‘naturally want the road to Egypt and India blocked and Lloyd George is not above using us to further his plan’.† From the Zionist point of view this response was a disaster. Weizmann immediately mobilised his American friends, and after further discussion with Colonel House Brandeis could reassure him that the president could be relied upon to support a pro-Zionist declaration. By mid-October Wiseman, head of British intelligence in the United States, had informed the Foreign Office that Wilson had approved the formula decided upon by the British war cabinet. The Zionists had surmounted yet another major hurdle owing to the help received from American Jewry.
Weizmann and the Balfour Declaration
The main battleground, however, was London, not Washington, and it is to Zionist policy in the British capital that we must turn next. Weizmann had believed in a British victory since the beginning of the war, and the German victories during the early stages had not shaken him in his belief. While he detested the tsarist régime as much as any of his colleagues, unlike most of them he did not think much of Germany either. His own experiences as a student in Germany had been unfortunate. He seems to have been a confirmed Anglophile from the age often when he wrote to his teacher: ‘All have decided: the Jew must die, but England will nevertheless have mercy upon us.’‡ Weizmann thought the decision to leave the executive in Berlin a grave mistake, and when his suggestion to move it to Holland (or the United States) was rejected, he ceased to correspond with his colleagues outside the entente countries and the United States. His activities from that moment on were as much in violation of the principle of Zionist neutrality as the policies of the German Zionists. But, unlike them, Weizmann was successful in the end.
When war broke out, Weizmann was on holiday with his family in Switzerland. He returned immediately to England, and talked to his friends of the great possibilities that had suddenly opened up even if there were no concrete plans at this stage: ‘There was an atmosphere of uncertainty and I went about with my hopes, waiting for my chances.’* Two months later he was introduced to C.C. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian. Scott was won over to Zionism by Weizmann, who told him about the Jewish tragedy in eastern Europe and the messianic dreams for Palestine. Scott, a Bible-reading man who at one time had wanted to become a Unitarian minister, was attracted by the passionate religion of Zionism, its deep sense of continuity.† He suggested a meeting with Lloyd George, chancellor of the exchequer, who in turn suggested a meeting with Herbert Samuel first. Weizmann went to the meeting with some trepidation. ‘For God’s sake, Mr Scott, let’s have nothing to do with that man’, he had exclaimed when the name was first mentioned. He thought that Samuel, like other leaders of Anglo-Jewry, was hostile to Zionism, and he was therefore dumbfounded when Samuel told him that his (Weizmann’s) demands were much too modest. Samuel advised him to ‘think big’, adding that the aims of Zionism were very much in the mind of his cabinet colleagues. Weizmann answered that if he were a religious Jew he would have thought that the time of the Messiah was near.‡
In January 1915 Weizmann met Lloyd George, who had first come in contact with Zionism in Herzl’s days, when he had been consulted about El Arish and Uganda in his capacity as a lawyer. He had not gone on record during the intervening years with any statement in favour of Zionism, but he told Herbert Samuel a few days after Turkey’s declaration of war (November 1914) that he was very keen to see a Jewish state established in Palestine. Asquith said of him that he did not give a damn for the Jews, their past or their future. But this was a misinterpretation of the man and his motives: ‘His elusive spirit never became enchained to Zionism but he knew it far better than his colleagues and he liked it very much.’§ Lloyd George had an instinctive sympathy for small nations, to one of which he himself belonged. He was, as Weizmann wrote, deeply religious. To him and to others of his contemporaries the return of the Jewish people to Palestine was not a dream, since they believed in the Bible, and Zionism represented to them a tradition for which they had enormous respect.*
His motives, needless to say, were not wholly idealistic. His active interest in Zionism cannot be accounted for, as Stein says, by emotion and sentiment alone. Before exerting himself for the Zionist cause, he made sure that such a policy accorded with British interests as he conceived them.† This refers above all to the place of Palestine in imperial defence in the postwar world, a concept that had been first developed by Herbert Sidebotham, the Manchester Guardian’s military correspondent and another convert to Zionism. This consideration had not escaped Weizmann’s mind. His plans were based on the assumption that the Allies would win, as he wrote Zangwill even before Turkey had entered the war. In this case Palestine was bound to fall within the sphere of British influence. If developed, it would constitute a barrier separating the Suez Canal from the Black Sea and any hostility which might come from that direction. If a million Jews were moved into Palestine within the next fifty or sixty years it could become an Asian Belgium. The reference to Belgium after the German invasion of 1914 was not one of Weizmann’s happier historical parallels but what he meant was clear: ‘England would have an effective barrier and we would have a country.’‡
Herbert Samuel played the most important role in these early behind-the-scene activities: ‘He guided us constantly’, Weizmann wrote, ‘and gave us occasional indications of the way things were likely to shape. He was discreet, tactful and insistent.’ After his meeting with Weizmann, Samuel prepared a long memorandum for Asquith, the prime minister, in which he suggested a British protectorate over Palestine after the war, since a French protectorate was undesirable and the internationalisation of the country not feasible. Yet Samuel’s assumption that there was substantial support for Zionism in the cabinet was over-optimistic. Sir Edward Grey, the foreign secretary, told him that while he personally was sympathetic, it was premature to raise the Palestine issue. Grey was reluctant to enter into any commitment and stressed the necessity to consult France before decisions were taken concerning the division of spheres of influences in the Near East.§ Grey promised Samuel that no decision would be taken on the future of Syria without taking the Palestinian issue into account.
This was reassuring, but it still meant that the Zionists had not been able so far to advance their cause. For the moment Lloyd George was Samuel’s only supporter. For the prime minister, Zionism had no appeal whatever. The Samuel memorandum struck him as fantastic. He could not understand how such a lyrical outburst could emanate from the ‘well-ordered and methodical brain of Herbert Samuel’. By nature a cautious man, Asquith was not in the least moved by the considerations which made Zionism attractive to ‘more adventurous minds and more romantic temperaments. He could see in Zionist aspirations nothing but a rather fantastic dream, and in proposals for British control of Palestine merely an invitation to Great Britain to accept an unnecessary and unwanted addition to her imperial responsibilities’.* The first initiative to persuade the cabinet to adopt the Zionist programme thus ended in failure. The government was not likely to lift a finger, and the prospect facing Weizmann and his supporters was at best that of a long and arduous uphill struggle.
Occasional meetings continued but no substantial progress was made during 1915 and the following year. The Zionists decided therefore to use the time to win stronger backing among the Jewish community. Weizmann had been joined meanwhile by Nahum Sokolow, who, unlike Weizmann, was a member of the executive and could therefore speak with greater authority on behalf of the world organisation. The Zionists knew that it was important to have the support of the Conjoint Committee, the spokesman of British Jewry, on all matters affecting Jewish communities abroad. Founded in 1878 by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (a federation of Jewish communities) and the Anglo-Jewish Association (based on individual membership), the Conjoint Committee was wholly out of sympathy with Zionist aspirations and advised the Foreign Office to ignore them.
The story of this inner Jewish battle has been told in detail and need be only briefly recapitulated here.† Weizmann’s main antagonists were Claude Montefiore (‘a high-minded man who considered nationalism beneath the religious level of Jews - except in their capacity as Englishmen’) and Lucien Wolf, a distinguished journalist and secretary of the Conjoint Committee (who found it ‘impossible to understand that English non-Jews did not look upon his anti-Zionism as the hallmark of a superior loyalty’). The ideology of the Liberal opposition to Zionism has been discussed elsewhere in the present study. Suffice it to say in this context that Montefiore and Wolf looked upon Judaism (again to quote Weizmann) as a collection of abstract religious principles, upon east European Jewry as an object of compassion and philanthropy, and upon Zionism as, at best, the empty dream of a few misguided idealists.* The Conjoint Committee had close connections with the leading bodies of French Jewry, and given the prestige of its members and Lucien Wolf’s excellent contacts with the Foreign Office, they were a formidable enemy.
Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India, wholly shared these views and was the fiercest opponent of the Zionists in the cabinet. In some respects he even went beyond them, being genuinely convinced that all Zionists were German agents, out to promote German imperialism and to weaken British influence in Asia. About the fate of Russian Jewry he wrote in 1916: ‘I regard with perfect equanimity whatever treatment the Jews receive in Russia. I am convinced that the treatment meted out to Jews in Russia will be no worse or no better than the Russian degree of general civilisation.’ Shortly before the Balfour Declaration he noted in his diary that he was glad to have met in Reginald Wingate (high commissioner in Egypt) a strong opponent of Zionism, ‘for this would undoubtedly bolster up German influence in Palestine, most Zionists being of German origin.’†
Weizmann and his colleagues undertook the unpromising task of searching for a compromise with the members of the Conjoint Committee. At first the outlook seemed not altogether hopeless. Sacher gained the impression in November 1914 that Wolf was anxious to find common ground with the Zionists. In conversation with Samuel in February 1915 Wolf also indicated approval of a policy based on free immigration, facilities for colonisation, and the establishment of a Hebrew university, provided the idea of a Jewish state was dropped. Weizmann too was favourably impressed when he met Wolf in December 1914, but the meeting of minds was more apparent than real, as emerged soon after at a more formal confrontation. While the Zionists (represented by Sokolow and Chlenov, who was then temporarily in Britain) stressed their demand for a Jewish commonwealth to be established after the war, the committee reiterated its view that Zionism with its ‘nationalist postulates’ offered no solution to the Jewish question wherever it existed. The committee concluded that it would be highly inopportune to raise the question of Palestine during the war.
Thus the dialogue broke down and the committee was acting without consultation with the Zionists when Wolf in March 1916 submitted a memorandum to the Foreign Office in which the British and the other powers were asked to take account after the war of the traditional interest in Palestine of the Jewish communities. Wolf demanded the full enjoyment of civil and religious liberties for the Jews of Palestine, equal religious rights with the rest of the population, reasonable facilities for immigration and colonisation, and certain municipal privileges in the towns and colonies inhabited by Jews.* He was careful not to venture beyond these philanthropic demands, and it is of some interest to note that Grey was less cautious than Wolf in his comments on the memorandum when it was brought to the knowledge of the French and Russian governments. Grey suggested in effect that the Jews in Palestine should be given autonomy once their number equalled that of the Arabs.
The attempts made by well-meaning Jewish personalities to restart the dialogue between the Zionists and the Conjoint Committee were in vain. Weizmann and his colleagues were convinced that the assimilationists were not open to persuasion, and their attitude became less conciliatory than it had been earlier. They felt that the committee did not represent the views of the community. Early in the war Weizmann had written to Harry Sacher and Leon Simon that ‘the gentlemen of the type of Lucien Wolf have to be told the candid truth and made to realise that we and not they are the masters of the situation’.† The Zionists realised that it would greatly facilitate their task if they had the blessing of the Anglo-Jewish establishment, but they were not willing to make far-reaching concessions in return. The Conjoint Committee on the other hand resented the fact that upstart east European Jews only recently arrived in Britain had established direct contacts with the government, bypassing the leading bodies of Anglo-Jewry. They were genuinely afraid that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, based on the recognition that the Jews were a people, would fatally affect the position of the Jews in the diaspora and jeopardise the rights they had won in a hard struggle over many years. The committee repeatedly asserted that they were not opposed in principle to Jewish aspirations in Palestine. In a conversation with Balfour in January 1917 Wolf said that he and his friends would have no objection if the Jewish community of Palestine developed into a local Jewish nation and a Jewish state, provided it did not claim the allegiance of the Jews of western Europe and did not imperil their status and rights.* Even before, in December 1915, in a memorandum to Grey, Balfour’s predecessor, Wolf had stated that while he deplored the Jewish national movement, facts could not be ignored: since Zionism in America had become so powerful in recent months, this movement could not be overlooked by the allied governments in any bid for Jewish sympathies.
Among the men most prominently involved in the activities which led to the Balfour Declaration there was, of course, above all Chaim Weizmann, who had moved from Manchester to London to work for the Ministry of Munitions. According to Lloyd George’s memoirs, published many years later, the Declaration was given to Weizmann as a reward for the important work he had done in producing acetone. ‘I almost wish that it had been as simple as that’, Weizmann commented in his autobiography, ‘and that I had never known the heartbreaks, the drudgery and the uncertainties which preceded the Declaration. But history does not deal in Aladdin Lamps.’†
The British government, to recapitulate, was divided in its attitude. One group of politicians and high officials was opposed to the idea of a Jewish Palestine, which it considered absurd, impractical and of no possible value to Britain. Others were on the whole favourably inclined but shied away from the obligations and commitment involved in the project of a British protectorate. They suggested instead a co-dominion together with France, or perhaps the United States. They saw certain advantages in an alliance with Zionism but were also aware of the draw-backs, and they were not altogether sure whether the whole scheme was worthwhile. The issue had not been given much study, and even some of those favourably inclined asked themselves whether Palestine was not too small, whether the Jews were capable of building up the country, and whether, above all, they would in any case go to Palestine if it was given to them. Another group of leading British politicians was firmly committed to the scheme, and it was owing to their resolution that it was accepted. It has been said that the Foreign Office and military experts regarded Palestine as a territory ‘of the utmost importance to the future security and well-being of the British empire’.‡ Various committees were set up during the war to define British desiderata in Turkey-in-Asia, but their reports were never officially endorsed. In any case, the future of Palestine and Zionism were two distinct issues. The fact that a certain British statesman attributed considerable political or strategic importance to Palestine did not necessarily make him a supporter of Dr Weizmann’s projects - it could well have, as in Curzon’s case, the opposite effect.
Lloyd George has already been mentioned as one of the chief supporters of the pro-Zionist policy. Balfour was another. Weizmann had met him first in Manchester in 1905 and again the year after, and gives the following account of their conversation: discussing the Uganda scheme Weizmann said:
‘Mr Balfour, supposing I were to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?’ He sat up, looked at me and answered: ‘But Dr Weizmann we have London.’ ‘That is true’, I said, ‘but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.’ He leaned back, continued to stare at me and said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: ‘Are there many Jews who think like you?’ I answered: ‘I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves.’ … To this he said: ‘If that is so you will one day be a force.’*
Balfour was impressed by Weizmann’s personality and the case for Zionism. More than twenty years later he wrote to his niece that it was this talk with Weizmann which brought home to him the uniqueness of Jewish patriotism: ‘Their love of their country refused to be satisfied by the Uganda scheme. It was Weizmann’s absolute refusal even to look at it that impressed me.’†
Weizmann met Balfour again in 1915-16 when he was first lord of the Admiralty, and incidentally Weizmann’s chief, as the Zionist leader had meanwhile become scientific adviser to the Admiralty. Balfour’s personality has remained something of a mystery. Some of those who knew him closely speak of his ‘heart of stone’ and his ‘innate cynicism’. Yet he seems to have been firmly convinced that the Jews were the most gifted race produced by mankind since the Greeks; exiled, scattered, and persecuted, Christendom owed them an ‘immeasurable debt’.‡ Weizmann always thought that Britain could be induced by a combination of idealism and self-interest to sponsor the building-up of a Jewish national home. But Balfour, the alleged cynic, was not particularly interested in strategic considerations and the effect on America of a pro-Zionist declaration was not for him the decisive factor either. By nature inclined towards compromise, he was not willing to listen to arguments against Zionism; on this subject his mind was shut. As Lord Vansittart later wrote, Balfour cared for one thing only – Zionism.*
Some supported Zionism because it was a cause in the tradition of philhellenism and the Risorgimento, which had so powerfully attracted previous generations of Englishmen. There was also the religious factor. For Balfour, as for Lloyd George and Smuts and not a few of their contemporaries, the Bible was a living reality. Lloyd George once told Mrs Rothschild that the biblical names brought up in his meetings with Dr Weizmann were much more familiar to him than the towns and villages in the communiqués from the western front. The concept of the return, Weizmann later wrote, appealed to the tradition and the faith of these British statesmen. Their approach to state problems differed from that of a later age: ‘The so-called realism of modern politics is not realism at all, but pure opportunism, lack of moral stamina, lack of vision and the principle of living from hand to mouth.’† England believed, according to Weizmann, that she had no business in Palestine except as part of the plan for the creation of the Jewish homeland. He would not have succeeded had he based his arguments on British self-interest alone, for these considerations were not weighty enough. British statesmen had several options in the Near East. Zionism was one of them, but neither the most important nor the most promising. A British protectorate was bound to create tension with France, the Liberals were against any further extension of the empire, and by the time the Balfour Declaration was published America had joined the Allies and there was no longer any urgent need to appease American Jewry. Self-interest by itself cannot provide a satisfactory explanation for British policy on Palestine in 1917.
The Zionists were not the only ones with designs in the Near East. While Weizmann and his colleagues tried to win support for their cause in London and Washington, negotiations were proceeding unknown to them, notes were being exchanged and agreements signed, which were directly to affect the future of Palestine. Sir Henry McMahon, Kitchener’s successor as high commissioner in Egypt, came to an agreement with Sherif Hussain of Mecca: the sherif (to put a complex issue very briefly) undertook to expel the Turks from the Arab area and in return the British were to recognise Arab independence. The question that matters in the present context is whether Palestine was included in the promise made to Hussain.
The debate about this point has continued for fifty years. Arab spokesmen have maintained that Palestine was to be part of independent Arabia, whereas McMahon and the English statesmen deny this.* Be that as it may, the British could always argue that they were not really bound by the deal, for the sherif had not fulfilled his part of the bargain; a general Arab insurrection was planned but never took place. Lloyd George put it somewhat harshly: ‘The Arabs of Palestine, who might have been helpful in many ways, were quiescent and cowering … they were fighting against us.’
More important, and potentially more dangerous from the Zionist point of view, was the Sykes-Picot agreement. Sir Mark Sykes, representing the British Foreign Office, and Charles Georges Picot, on behalf of the French Foreign Ministry, prepared a draft agreement in 1915 concerning the postwar division of the Near East. It was approved in principle by Russia, provisionally signed in January 1916, and ratified (in the form of an exchange of notes between Sir Edward Grey and Paul Cambon) in May 1916. Under this agreement Palestine was to be part of the British sphere of influence, with the exception of a section of the country north of a line from Acre to the northern end of Lake Tiberias, which was to belong to the French zone. In addition, vague provisions were made for an international zone including the Holy Places (the Jerusalem enclave).† The Sykes-Picot agreement was of importance, because it bound the hands of the British government in its negotiations with the Zionists.
Weizmann learned of its existence only a year later. The British representative, Sykes, secretary to the war cabinet, became one of the most ardent supporters of the Zionist cause, so much so that he began to suspect all anti-Zionist Jews of harbouring secret pro-German leanings.‡ But Sykes’ conversion took place only after the agreement with the French had been provisionally signed, and he found himself in the uncomfortable position of not being able to reveal its existence to his new friends. It has been argued that by 1917 Sykes had second thoughts about the wisdom of the agreement with the French, and regarded the Zionist demand for a British protectorate as a ‘golden opportunity to wriggle out of the 1916 agreement’.* But this is to ascribe to Sykes an undue measure of Machiavellianism and to underrate his genuine enthusiasm for the Zionist cause. He was a generous and warm-hearted man, as Weizmann described him, a colourful and romantic figure, not very consistent or logical in his thinking. His advice to the Zionists was invaluable. He helped them to keep up the pressure on the government when the issue was temporarily shelved and (again to quote Weizmann) prevented them from committing dangerous blunders. Sykes was equally fervent in his support for the Arab and Armenian national movements and envisaged close collaboration between them and Zionism.†
Despite the sympathy in high places, the memoranda and meetings, Zionism had not made any marked progress by the second and third years of the war. The British cabinet was preoccupied with problems infinitely more urgent than Palestine. The war was going on, and it was not going too well. France showed no enthusiasm for a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine under British rule, and the Americans had not yet made their influence felt. It was against this background that the cabinet crisis of December 1916 took place which led to Asquith’s resignation. Lloyd George became prime minister, Balfour foreign secretary, and Milner a member of the war cabinet. These three sympathised with Zionism, and Lord Robert Cecil, assistant foreign secretary, was also a warm supporter. On the other hand, the Zionists lost in Herbert Samuel their closest ally, and Edwin Montagu, a bitter opponent, returned to the government after a short interval.
The change of government coincided with a military offensive in the Near East. The Sinai peninsula had been occupied by an expeditionary corps from Egypt in late 1916. An assault on Gaza in March 1917 ended in failure, but the war cabinet decided nevertheless on 2 April in favour of the invasion of Palestine. Sykes advised his Zionist friends as early as January to be prepared to have men on the spot when the British entered Jerusalem.‡
In February 1917 the first full-dress conference took place which led to the Balfour Declaration. Sykes and Samuel were present, as well as the leading Zionists and two members of the Rothschild family. The meeting decided against a co-dominion or the internationalisation of Palestine in favour of a British protectorate.* Sykes impressed on the gathering the importance of the rising Arab national movement and said that France was the main obstacle to the realisation of Zionist aims. It was decided to send Sokolow to Paris and Rome to induce the French and the Italians to soften their opposition, and, if at all possible, to extract a declaration of sympathy. The mission was a qualified success inasmuch as Sokolow received a letter from Cambon expressing sympathy for the renaissance of the ‘Jewish nationality in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many years ago’.†
In Paris Sokolow was treading on thin ice because he knew from Picot that France wanted Palestine for herself and was not willing to consider co-dominion with Britain, or, worse yet, with the United States.‡ Weizmann, on the other hand, was most anxious that Sokolow should not leave any doubt in Paris that the Zionist executive preferred Britain, and he was critical of Sokolow, who apparently had not said so expressis verbis in his meetings with French diplomats. Weizmann feared to arouse suspicion in the Foreign Office, whereas Sykes was much less sensitive in this respect. He assumed, correctly as it appeared, that any French declaration, however vague, in favour of Zionist aspirations would strengthen the Zionist case in the Foreign Office.
Sokolow subsequently received similar assurances in Rome and the Vatican. He was told that he could count on the sympathy of the Church provided the Church received assurances about the Holy Places. Cardinal Gasparri, papal secretary of state, said in conversation that he envisaged ‘reserved areas’, to include not only Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but also Nazareth and its surroundings, Tiberias and even Jericho. Sokolow was dejected, for not much would have remained for a Jewish national home, but Sykes, a devout Catholic, again felt happy about the outcome of the meeting. What counted at this stage was that His Holiness had declared: ‘Si, io credo che noi saremo buoni vicini’ (I believe we shall be good neighbours).§
Sokolow returned to London in the middle of June 1917. His conversations had advanced the Zionist cause, but there were still certain doubts in the Foreign Office as to whether it was wise to aim at a British protectorate. Would it not be more feasible for the country to be administered under an international mandate after the war? Weizmann had meanwhile learned about the Sykes-Picot agreement and had protested vigorously to the Foreign Office, claiming that it would be preferable to leave Palestine to Turkey rather than internationalise it.* But he was still optimistic that his plan for a British protectorate would eventually materialise, and in a speech in London on 20 May 1917 he said he knew that the British government was prepared to support the Zionist plans. It is not quite clear whether he was entitled to make such a statement or whether he wanted to force the hands of the Foreign Office.
Weizmann had been prepared to leave London for Egypt following Sykes’ advice, which was based on the assumption that British troops from Egypt would occupy Palestine during the spring or early summer. But there was no spring or summer offensive. General Murray showed little initiative, and for the chief of the imperial general staff the Palestine theatre did not have high priority. Lloyd George saw the situation in a very different light. On the conduct of the war he was a confirmed ‘easterner’, remarking on one occasion that the Palestinian front was the only one he found interesting. Allenby, newly appointed, was told that the war cabinet expected the capture of Jerusalem before Christmas 1917.†
Weizmann had met both Lloyd George and Balfour in March and April 1917 and gained the impression that the statesmen who really mattered were unshaken in their support for a British protectorate over Palestine. During the summer of 1917 there was a palpable change in the political climate, reflected inter alia in the friendly comments of The Times on the idea of a Jewish national home. The Conjoint Committee was more dismayed than ever by this turn of events and its leaders decided to pass over to the offensive: Wolf had seen Balfour in January 1917, shortly after the new government had come to power, and had restated the opposition of his association to Zionist aspirations. Balfour promised that the committee would be consulted on Jewish affairs, but also suggested that Wolf and his friends should refrain from polemics against the Zionists.
The anti-Zionists, annoyed by Weizmann’s speech of 20 May, in which he had referred to them as a ‘small minority’, decided to ignore Balfour’s advice. Four days later a letter signed by David Alexander and Claude Montefiore, the presidents of the Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association, appeared in The Times under the heading ‘Palestine and Zionism - Views of Anglo-Jewry’. They reiterated their protest against the Zionist theory of a homeless nationality, which, if generally accepted, would have the effect everywhere of stamping Jews as strangers in their native lands. A Jewish political nationality was an anachronism; religion was the only certain criterion. The signatories also said that it would be a calamity if Jewish settlers in Palestine were to get special rights in the way of political privileges or economic preferences. This was in contradiction to the principle of equal rights for all. It would compromise the Jews wherever they had secured equal rights and would involve the Palestinian Jews in the bitterest feuds with their neighbours of other races.*
The opening of the press campaign backfired. The fact that the leaders of the Conjoint Committee had thought it right to air an internal Jewish quarrel in The Times made a bad impression in the community. In a reply the chief rabbi, Lord Walter Rothschild, and other prominent Jewish leaders dissociated themselves from the Alexander-Montefiore statement.† Less than a month later the Board of Deputies passed a vote of no-confidence in the Conjoint Committee. This resulted in the resignation of the president of the board, and in September 1917, in the dissolution of the committee. The ordinary Jews - Leonard Stein writes - were in growing numbers gravitating towards Zionism. They were none too clear in their minds what they wanted or expected to see in Palestine, ‘they had simply an instinctive feeling that the Zionists were moving in the right direction and ought not to be obstructed. Moreover, the battle between Zionists and anti-Zionists was mixed up with a struggle for power inside Anglo-Jewry.’ The affairs of the community were still managed by representatives of a few rich, socially eminent families. Their ‘benevolent oligarchical régime’ was out of touch with the new forces which were emerging in the community and insisting on playing their part in the inner circles of Anglo-Jewish representation.‡
In mid-May 1917, Morgenthau, a former American ambassador to Constantinople, had been commissioned by President Wilson to explore the possibilities of a separate peace with Turkey. This caused some concern in the Foreign Office and even more among the Zionists because the mission, if successful, might have left Palestine part of the Ottoman empire. Weizmann was sent to Gibraltar to meet the American emissary and to try to dissuade him from pursuing his mission, without unduly offending Morgenthau or President Wilson. In fact, the whole idea of a separate peace with Turkey had not been well thought out or prepared. The scope of the venture was not clear and Weizmann did not find it too difficult to persuade Morgenthau to desist.
The mobilisation of Jewish public opinion in the entente countries in support of Zionist aspirations played an important part in the prehistory of the Balfour Declaration. Brandeis was all in favour of the plan for a British protectorate, being fully aware that the American government would be averse to the idea of a co-dominion or protectorate. Surprisingly, Weizmann and Sokolow found the going much more difficult in Russia. According to Chlenov, the provisional government which had replaced the tsar was well-disposed towards the Zionist movement, but Palestine did not figure high among its priorities, and the Russian Zionists were less happy than Weizmann about the whole scheme; their earlier admiration for Britain had been deeply affected by its support for the tsarist régime. Moreover, it was well known that the British ambassador and some leading British journalists in Petrograd were not at all friendly towards Russian Jewry. There were doubts whether Weizmann’s total identification with British war aims was not imprudent. Britain had yet to make a clear promise with regard to Palestine’s future. The Russian Zionists were unwilling to press in Petrograd for support for a scheme which the British had themselves not yet endorsed. Was it certain that Britain was going to pursue the Palestine campaign? And what if it did not succeed in liberating Palestine from the Turks?* Chlenov would have preferred a Jewish national home recognised by all the powers to one exclusively oriented towards Britain. Weizmann was exasperated. There was talk about dispatching Sokolow to Russia, but in the end the London Zionists had to manage without a clear statement of Russian support.
In his meetings with Balfour and Lloyd George in March and April 1917 Weizmann had gained the impression (to recapitulate) that the prime minister and his foreign secretary were committed to the idea of a Jewish Palestine under a British protectorate. But the decisive issue was how to translate the intention into practical politics. In June and July, while Weizmann was in Gibraltar, the other Zionist leaders in London drafted for consideration by the cabinet the text of a letter of support to be issued by the British government. According to the draft, prepared by Sacher, Britain was to declare that the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish state was one of its essential war aims. Sokolow thought this was too ambitious: ‘If we ask for too much we shall get nothing.’ On the other hand, he was certain that once a sympathetic declaration was issued, the Zionists would gradually get more and more.*
His caution seems to have been justified, for when the Foreign Office began its own drafting, it employed terms such as ‘asylum’ and ‘refuge’ and the establishment of a ‘sanctuary’ for Jewish victims of persecution. This, needless to say, was rejected by the Zionists, who insisted that the declaration would have no value at all unless the principle of recognising Palestine as the National Home of the Jewish People was affirmed. Eventually, on 18 July, Rothschild submitted a compromise formula to Balfour. It mentioned not a Jewish state but a National Home, and proposed that the British government should discuss with the Zionist organisation ways and means of achieving this object. Two days before Rothschild dispatched his letter, it was reported that Edwin Montagu had rejoined the cabinet. Rothschild said he was afraid that as a result the Zionist cause had suffered a major, perhaps a fatal setback. Weizmann was less pessimistic, but he too considered the situation disturbing and wrote later: ‘There cannot be the slightest doubt that without outside interference - entirely from Jews - the draft would have been accepted early in August substantially as we submitted it.’†
The Rothschild draft was submitted to the war cabinet for the first time in early August 1917, but its discussion was postponed. It reappeared on the agenda on 3 September. Both Lloyd George and Balfour were absent on this occasion, and Montagu vehemently opposed the scheme. To gain time, it was decided to ask President Wilson for advice. This came as a cold douche for the Zionists, and Wilson’s first, non-committal comment aggravated the situation even further. But Weizmann and his colleagues did not accept defeat. They saw Balfour and prepared a new memorandum for the next cabinet meeting on 4 October. This time the pro-Zionist forces (with the exception of Smuts) were present in full strength. They included the prime minister, the foreign secretary, and Milner.
Montagu was aware that he was fighting a losing battle, but persisted in his opposition. He made a long, forceful, emotional appeal to his colleagues: how could he represent the British government during his forthcoming mission to India if the same government declared that his (Montagu’s) national home was on Turkish territory? He was supported by Curzon, who raised a number of practical issues: Palestine was not big enough to absorb large-scale immigration; and how was the Arab problem to be settled? The cabinet resolved to consult President Wilson once again, but this time there was an element of urgency in Balfour’s arguments. He announced that the German government was making great efforts to woo the Zionists, who had the backing of the majority of Jews. The American attitude, he added, was extremely favourable.*
A decision was clearly about to be taken despite Montagu’s rearguard action. The main danger from the Zionist point of view was that it would be watered down. A little comedy of errors was enacted while the cabinet was in session. Weizmann was so agitated that he found it impossible to continue to work in his laboratory. He went to Philip Kerr, Lloyd George’s secretary, and enquired whether he should be available in case the cabinet wished to question him. He was told that a private person had never been admitted to one of its sessions. He still found it impossible to return to his laboratory and went instead to the nearby office of Ormsby Gore. Then, immediately after Montagu’s speech, the cabinet decided to call in Dr Weizmann and messengers were sent for him. ‘They looked for me high and low - and I happened to be a few doors away.’† At first he feared that he had missed a great opportunity, but many years later realised that he might have been carried away on that occasion and made matters worse.
The campaign now reached its climax. Wilson’s answer this time was one of unequivocal support. As the anti-Zionists in the Jewish community mobilised their sympathisers, Weizmann countered with a list of 350 Jewish communities which supported the Rothschild draft. But at the next meeting of the war cabinet on 25 October again no final decision was taken, because Curzon announced that he was about to submit a memorandum on the question.‡ The Zionists and the Foreign Office regarded this as mere obstruction. They expected, rightly as it appeared a few days later, no new arguments. Curzon contended that the land was too poor, the climate inclement, the people dependent on the export of agricultural products. In brief, Palestine would not do as a national home for the Jews. He was all in favour of increased Jewish immigration from eastern Europe and giving the Jews the same civic and religious rights as the other inhabitants. But this was of course not what the Zionists wanted.* At the next cabinet meeting on 31 October Curzon gave in.
Leopold Amery had been commissioned earlier by Balfour to prepare a draft for a declaration which would take into account both the aims of the Zionists and, to a certain extent, the objections of their critics. This accounts for the absence of any reference to a Jewish state in the Balfour Declaration. Zionist leaders themselves had made it known that the argument that the Jews wanted a state was ‘wholly fallacious’, that it was not in fact part of the Zionist programme.†
The Amery draft was circulated to various Jewish personalities, and the chief rabbi gave an assurance that the proposed declaration would be approved by the overwhelming majority of Jews. Other correspondents were less sanguine. At the decisive cabinet meeting of 31 October, Balfour left open the question whether the national home would take the form of a British or an American protectorate, or whether there would be some other arrangement. At the end of the debate he was authorised to write to Lord Rothschild the following letter with the request to bring it to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation:
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to, and approved by, the cabinet.
‘His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours 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, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’
While the cabinet was in session, approving the final text, Weizmann was again waiting outside, this time within call. Sykes brought the document out and exclaimed: ‘Dr Weizmann, it’s a boy!’ Weizmann says he did not like the boy, he was not the one he had expected. But he knew that the new formula, however emasculated, was a tremendous event in Jewish history, a new departure.‡
The news of the Declaration was published in the British press on 8 November 1917, appearing side by side with reports from Petrograd about the Bolshevik revolution. The newspapers took it for granted that this ‘epoch-making’ event was to pave the way for a Jewish state: the Daily Express carried a headline ‘A State for the Jews’; The Times and the Morning Post chose ‘Palestine for the Jews’. The Observer wrote that there could not have been at this juncture a stroke of statesmanship more just and more wise.* The Jewish community was jubilant, and the enthusiasm of American and Russian Jewry was expressed in hundreds of resolutions. Henri Bergson, George Brandes and other public figures, alienated from Judaism and Jewish affairs, expressed their satisfaction and willingness to help in the building of the new Palestine.
Even the leaders of German Zionism, despite their precarious position - they could not of course associate themselves with the war aims of the British government - welcomed the Declaration as an event of world-historical importance, the longest step by far on the road towards the realisation of the Basle programme.† They redoubled their efforts to obtain a declaration from Germany and Turkey showing equal sympathy with Zionist aspirations. On 12 November the text of the Balfour Declaration was officially communicated to the German Foreign Ministry, and a meeting was requested with the state secretary. But Herr von Kühlmann was very busy; he could not see the Zionist leaders. His reply reflected the reluctance of the German government to come to the aid of the Zionists. On the other hand, Count Czernin, the Austrian foreign minister, received a Zionist delegation in November 1917 and promised support.‡ The Zionist executive made full use of the announcement, which was, however, of doubtful value. Austria could not dispose of Palestine, and, weakened as it was, now counted for little in world politics.§
When the Turkish ambassador in Berlin complained that the executive had welcomed the Balfour Declaration, Professor Warburg, still its titular head, replied that, on the contrary, he himself had been guilty of deviating from the principle of Zionist neutralism: Zionism was an international movement, but he had regarded it as his duty, both as a Zionist and a German, to remain at its helm, believing in the identity of interests between Germany, Turkey and Zionism. Or did the Turks want the transfer of the headquarters of the Zionist movement to a country hostile to Turkey?‖
Neither side in the war had strictly adhered to the declared principle of Zionist neutrality. Both were genuinely convinced that the Zionist cause would best be served by the victory of their side. This went so far that on occasion the Jews on one side attacked their co-religionists on the other, as when a prominent British Jew, Sir Stuart Samuel, president of the Board of Deputies, suggested to the British government in 1917 that German and Austrian Jews should be excluded from Palestine for twenty years as a punishment. Kurt Blumenfeld realised to his astonishment at the first postwar meeting of Zionist leaders that the ‘entente’ Zionists regarded the ‘central power’ Zionists, too, as the losers.
Neither the French nor the Italians reacted favourably to the Balfour Declaration. In a statement after the fall of Jerusalem, the Quai d’Orsay, ignoring the Balfour Declaration, announced that Palestine was to be internationalised. Two months later, following instructions from Clemenceau, Pichon stated that there was complete agreement between Britain and France on matters concerning un Etablissement Juif in Palestine.* But for both men the whole issue was of no great consequence, a mere public-relations gesture, and French diplomacy retreated subsequently from this profession of goodwill. The Italian Foreign Ministry would have preferred an international régime in Palestine to a British protectorate. It took Sokolow six months to extract a statement mentioning the establishment in Palestine of a Hebrew national centre while leaving open the question of the protectorate.
President Wilson had informally expressed support for the Balfour Declaration, but he was under pressure from Lansing, his secretary of state, not to commit himself publicly. Lansing pointed out that America was not at war with Turkey, that the Jews themselves were divided about the merits of Zionism, and that the other traditional interests in the Holy Land could not be ignored.† It was ten months before, prodded by Stephen Wise, Wilson made another statement assuring the Zionists of his support. There was, needless to say, little enthusiasm on the part of the new Bolshevik government in Petrograd. Lenin and Trotsky had only just seized power; Palestine was remote and unimportant. Later, when they came to reflect on the Balfour Declaration, they concluded that it was an imperialist intrigue, part of an overall network of anti-Soviet schemes, arranged to strengthen British imperialist interests against the world revolution.
We have retraced in broad outline the developments that eventually led to the Balfour Declaration. The main milestones on this road are not in dispute, but the causes, as usual, are. Why did the British government decide to make the Declaration and what did it expect from it? It may be useful to put the issue into a broader perspective: for the Zionists this was the central political problem, whereas for the British leaders (not to mention the French and the Americans) it was marginal. Neither the friends nor the enemies of the Zionist cause had the time or interest to engage in a thorough study of its various aspects. Hence the frequent inconsistencies in their attitude. There was no more enthusiastic Zionist than Sir Mark Sykes, no one less patient with anti-Zionist arguments. But Sykes was also convinced that the objects of Zionism did not involve a Jewish state, and he advised the Jews in their own interest to look at the problem through Arab eyes.* Lord Cecil, assistant foreign secretary, declared in December 1917 at a public meeting: ‘Our wish is that the Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians and Judaea for the Jews.’ Yet only a few weeks later he informed the American ambassador that all the British government had done was to give a pledge to put the Jews in Palestine on the same footing as other nationalities and to see that there should be no discrimination against them.† Such inconsistencies do not necessarily reflect Machiavellian schemes and hidden designs. The Balfour Declaration was, as Leonard Stein has pointed out, not a legal but a political document, and a fairly vague one at that. It could be interpreted in different ways, and as the international situation was so fluid, the interpretation changed from week to week.
There is conflicting evidence as to what Balfour, Lloyd George and others expected to happen in Palestine after the war. It has been argued that there never was any intention to establish a Jewish state, but this opinion was probably coloured by subsequent developments, by the fact that after 1918 influential circles within the British government gradually dissociated themselves from the original concept. There is no reason to disbelieve Forbes Adams, the Foreign Office expert on Palestine, who wrote before this change in climate took place that the intention of the British government was to create a state in Palestine and to turn it into a Jewish state.‡ Such a transformation was expected to take years, perhaps many years. Lloyd George, two decades later, wrote that the war cabinet did not intend to set up a Jewish state immediately, but that it was contemplated that Palestine would become a Jewish common-wealth after the Jews had responded to the opportunity afforded them and become a majority of the inhabitants.
Some of the reasons which helped to induce the British government to enter into a commitment vis-à-vis the Zionist movement have been mentioned; they were aware that the goodwill of world Jewry was an important if intangible factor. The year 1917 was not a happy one for the Allies, and they needed all the assistance they could get. The support of American Jewry for the allied cause was no longer an issue of paramount importance, since America had entered the war. But Russia was about to leave it, and thus Russian Jewry became a factor of some significance. Sir Ronald Graham, head of the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office, wrote in a memorandum dated 24 October 1917 that the Zionists might be thrown into the arms of the Germans unless an assurance of sympathy was given to them: ‘The moment this assurance is granted, the Zionist Jews are prepared to start an active pro-allied propaganda throughout the world.’*
During the autumn of 1917 the situation in Russia became more and more critical. The country was exhausted, and it seemed doubtful whether the provisional government would be able to stay in power. If Russia left the war, no great powers of prediction were needed to realise that the allied forces in the west would at once be subjected to heavier German pressure: the great offensive in France had been a failure, and the Italian army was facing a critical situation. No substantial American forces had as yet appeared in Europe. In this situation, and in view of the fact that Jews were conspicuous in the Russian revolutionary movement, allied efforts to win over Russian Jewry did not come as a surprise. But it is unlikely that any British statesmen expected immediate, dramatic returns. According to the advice the British government received from Petrograd, Russian Jews were not important politically and the less said and done about the subject the better, Ambassador Buchanan had written earlier in the war. He thought (as his colleagues in Washington did) that the weight of the Jews was usually overrated and that it was hardly worth investing great efforts to win their support.
The war cabinet did not quite share this opinion. It took a graver view of the deteriorating situation in Russia and of the spread of pacifist attitudes in both Russia and America. But this (to quote Leonard Stein again) does not answer the question why the Zionists were taken seriously enough for the British government to enter into a long-term moral obligation towards Zionism. Its ambassadors in Washington and Petrograd, and the other critics of Zionism were, after all, not seriously mistaken in their assessment of Zionist influence. Russian Jewry was divided in its attitude towards Zionism and a Jewish national home, and would not in any case have been able to keep Russia in the war. The Allies, on the other hand - to put it somewhat crudely - would have won the war even if no promise to the Zionists had been made. Even in the third year of the war Zionism was only a minor factor in world politics.
It is true that early in December Weizmann cabled Rozov, the Russian Zionist leader, to do all he could to strengthen pro-British sentiment in Russian Jewry and counter adverse influences. ‘Remember the providential coincidence of British and Jewish interests. We rely on your doing your utmost at this critical and solemn hour. Wire what steps you propose to take.’*
But neither allied difficulties nor Zionist strength were great enough to make this explanation wholly convincing. When, at a private gathering soon after the event, Balfour was asked whether it had been his intention to make a bid for Jewish support in the war, he replied: ‘Certainly not.’ He and Lloyd George wanted to give the Jews their rightful place in the world. It was not right, they felt, that a great nation should be deprived of a home.† Balfour believed, as Lloyd George did, that the Jews had been wronged by Christendom for almost two thousand years and that they had a claim to reparation. The whole culture of Europe, he said in a speech in 1922, had been guilty of great crimes against the Jews, and the British had at last taken the initiative in giving them the opportunity of developing in peace the great gifts which in the past they had been able to apply only in the countries of the diaspora.‡ Balfour thus had the feeling that he was instrumental in righting a wrong of world-historical dimensions, quite irrespective of the changing world situation. There was a similar element in Lloyd George’s thinking. He once told Mrs James de Rothschild about Weizmann: ‘When you and I are forgotten this man will have a monument to him in Palestine.’§
Such reference to moral considerations and issues of principle have appeared naïve, if not disingenuous, to latter-day historians and have been flatly rejected by some of them. Surely there must have been more tangible interests involved? It is, of course, quite true that the British statesmen of the day were convinced that the aims of Zionism were not incompatible with those of Britain in the Near East, for otherwise no support would have been forthcoming. But having established this obvious fact, we still know very little about the deeper motives. There is a temptation to explain them in terms of the psychology of British statesmen of a later age, but such an approach ignores the profound changes resulting from five decades of imperial decline. Principles counted for more at that time, and there was wider scope for disinterested action. It was still possible for a British government to take decisions from time to time which were of no obvious political, economic or military benefit. The Balfour Declaration may well have been the ‘last wholly independent imperial act of a British government done without any reference at all to pressure from any other great state or combination of states’.*
The Declaration fell short in most essential respects of Zionist aspirations. It was so cautiously worded that it left the future of Palestine wide open. It stated that Britain would ‘facilitate’ the establishment of a national home, but it did not commit itself to the idea of a British protectorate or mandate. It made no promise that there would be a Jewish commonwealth or state in Palestine; there was merely reference to a Jewish home, which did not exclude other national homes. There was no mention of Jewish autonomy or that the Jews would have a preponderant influence on the future of Palestine. It did not promise that the Zionist Organisation or any other Jewish body would participate in the administration of the country. Much of this may have been implicit in the thoughts of the authors of the Declaration, but these principles were not spelled out in the watered-down version. Hence the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Weizmann and his colleagues upon receiving the news that this vague formula had been accepted instead of the more concrete and stronger one suggested by them earlier on. But the spirit of elation which attended the announcement of the Declaration affected not only the Jewish masses, who did not know about the struggle behind the scenes which had preceded it - Weizmann himself was infected by it. Sokolow commented on the event in biblical terms and references: ‘Mid storm and fire the people and the land seemed to be born again. The great events of the time of Zerubabel, Ezra and Nehemiah repeated themselves. The Third Temple of Jewish freedom is rising before us.’†
After the publication of Herzl’s Judenstaat and the first Zionist congress, the Balfour Declaration was the second great turning-point in the history of political Zionism. But it was not immediate redemption, only the beginning of a new phase in an uphill struggle, which in some respects was even more arduous than earlier ones. A leading British newspaper, commenting on the Balfour Declaration, wrote that it was no idle dream to anticipate that by the close of another generation the new Zion might be a state ‘including, no doubt, only a pronounced minority of the entire Jewish race, yet numbering from a million to two million souls, forming a true national people, with its own distinctive, rural and urban civilisation, its own centres of learning and art.’* It was a remarkably acute forecast, yet it would never have materialised but for another world war, untold suffering and losses to the Jewish people, and, in the end, the abdication of the very power which had given Zionism its great chance in 1917.
* H. Hork Steiner, in L. Schoen, (ed.), Die Stimme der Wahrheit, Würzburg, 1905, p. 57.
* P.P. Alsberg, Mediniut hahanhala hazionit memoto shel Herzl ve’ad milkhemet haolam harishona, Doctoral dissertation, Jerusalem.
† A. Aöhm, Die zionistische Bewegung, vol. 1, Berlin, 1935, pp. 3, 35.
* Stenographisches Protokoll, VII. Kongress, Berlin, 1905, p. 316.
† E.E. Cohn, David Wolffsohn, Amsterdam, 1939, p. 167.
* C. Weizmann, Trial and Error, New York, 1966, p. 112.
† L. Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, New York, 1956, p. 28.
‡ D. Frischman, in Parzufim, quoted in A. Robinsohn, op. cit., p. 91.
§ R. Lichtheim, Rückkehr, Stuttgart, 1970, p. 116.
* Alsberg, Mediniut hahanhala hazionit…, p. 24.
† Die Welt, 1, 1909.
* Alsberg, Mediniut hahanhala hazionit…, p. 32.
† Ibid., p. 34.
‡ Lichtheim, Rückkehr, p. 119.
* The Times, 28 November 1911.
* Alsberg, Mediniut hahanhala hazionit…, p. 105.
† Y. Gruenbaum, Hatnua hazionit, vol. 3. Jerusalem, 1957, p. 146.
* Stenographisches Protokoll, IX. Kongress, Cologne and Leipzig, 1910, p. 20 et seq.
* Stenographisches Protokoll…, p. 38 et seq. (Pasmanik.)
† Ibid., pp. 102-3.
* Stenographisches Protokoll, X. Zionisten Kongress, Berlin-Leipzig, 1911, p. 65.
† H. Sacher, Zionist Portraits and Other Essays, London, 1959, pp. 34-5.
* Lichtheim, Rückkehr, p. 198.
* Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, p. 66.
* Cohn, David Wolffsohn, pp. 304-5.
* A. Ruppin, Building Israel, New York, 1949, pp. 47-9, 65.
† A. Ruppin, Pirke Khayai, Tel Aviv, 1944, vol. 1.
* Ruppin, Building Israel, p. 10.
† Alex Bein, The Return to the Soil, Jerusalem, 1952, p. 47.
‡ Bericht des Aktion Komitees der Zionistischen Organisation an den 11. Zionisten Kongress, n.p., 1913, p. 111; Palestine during the War, London, 1921, p. 7.
* S. Brodetzky, in H. Sacher (ed.), Zionism and the Jewish Future, London, 1916, p. 171 et seq.
† Böhm, Die Zionistische Bewegung, vol. 1, p. 478.
* R. Lichtheim, Die Geschichte des deutschen Zionismus, Jerusalem, 1954, p. 152.
† K. Blumenfeld, Erlebte Judenfrage, Stuttgart, 1962, pp. 162-7.
* Ibid., p. 85 et seq.
† For the early history of Zionism in Britain, see P. Goodman, Zionism in England 1899-1949, London, n.d., passim.
* Sacher, Zionist Portraits, pp. 18–19.
† J. Tabachnik, ‘American-Jewish Reaction to the First Zionist Congress’, in R. Ratai (ed.), Herzl Year Book, v, New York, 1963, p. 57 et seq.
* R. Learsi, Fulfillment, New York, 1951, p. 145; H. Parzen, ‘The Federation of American Zionists (1897-1914)’, in I.I. Ieyer (ed.), Early History of Zionism in America, New York, 1958, p. 245 et seq. The most detailed account of early Zionism in America is Avyatar Friesel, Hatnua hazionit bearazot habrit, Tel Aviv, 1970.
† Lipsky, A Gallery of Zionist Profiles, pp. 154-5.
* Ibid., p. 142.
* M. Gitlin, The Vision Amazing, Johannesburg, 1950, p. 119.
† Ibid., p. 96.
‡ Bericht des Aktion Komitees …, p. 32.
* L. Simon (ed.), Ten Essays on Zionism and Judaism by Ahad Ha’am, London, 1922, p. 12.
† See his articles ‘The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem’ (1897) and ‘Pinsker and Political Zionism’ (1902), in Nationalism and the Jewish Ethic, New York, 1962.
* ‘Summa Summarum’, ibid., p. 148.
† L. Limon, Ahad Ha’am, Philadelphia, 1960, p. 229.
‡ Ibid., p. 296.
* I. Kolat, ‘Theories on Israeli Nationalism’, in In the Dispersion, 7, 1967.
† L. Limon (ed.), Ahad Ha’am: Essays, Letters, Memoirs, Oxford, 1946, p. 282.
* M. Buber, Mein Weg zum Chassidismus, Frankfurt, 1918.
† See M. Buber, Die jüdische Bewegung (2 vols.), Berlin, 1920; H. Kohn, Martin Buber: Sein Werk und seine Zeit, Hellerau, 1930.
* G. Mosse, Germans and Jews, New York, 1969, pp. 85-9.
* Vom Judentum. Ein Sammelbuch, Leipzig, 1914, p. viii.
* M.M. Berdichevsky, Baderekh, Warsaw, 1922, vol. I, passim.
† H. Bergmann, Jawne und Jerusalem, Berlin, 1919, p. 34.
* J. Klatzkin, Krisis und Entscheidung im Judentum, Berlin, 1921, p. 35 et seq.
† Klatzkin, Techumim. I have used A. Hertzberg’s translation, p. 522.
† Klatzkin, Krisis und Entscheidung, p. 83.
* Jüdische Rundschau, 7, 28 August, 16 October, 1914.
† Jüdische Rundschau, throughout August-November 1914; N. Goldmann, Der Geist des Militarismus, Stuttgart, 1915.
* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 15.
† M. Bodenheimer, So wurde Israel, Frankfurt, 1958, p. 187.
* E. Zechlin, Die deutsche Politik und die Juden im ersten Weltkrieg, Goettingen, 1969, p. 119.
* Procès-verbal of Copenhagen meeting (3-6 December 1914); Lichtheim: Rückkehr, p. 255.
† Quoted in L. Stein, The Balfour Declaration, London, 1961, p. 99.
‡ Lichtheim: Rückkehr, p. 259; see also N.N. Gelber, Hazharat Balfour vetoldoteha, Jerusalem, 1939, p. 160 et seq.
* Zechlin: Die deutsche Politik …, p. 318. The most authoritative account of German-Zionist relations during the First World War is a hitherto unpublished study by Isaiah Friedman, sections of which the author kindly put at my disposal.
* Lichtheim: Rückkehr, p. 333.
† E. Zechlin: Die deutsche Politik…, p. 366 et seq.
‡ Ibid., p. 370.
§ J.J. Bernstorff, Erinnerungen und Briefe, Zürich, 1936, p. 148.
* Zechlin: Die deutsche Politik…, p. 399.
† Public Record Office, London, Cab. 23-4, 245, quoted in Zechlin, ibid.
‡ Jüdische Rundschau, 16 November 1917.
* O. Janowsky, The Jews and Minority Rights, New York, 1933, p. 184.
* J. de Haas, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, New York, 1929, passim.
† R.R. Baker, Woodrow Wilson, London, 1937, VI, p. 116, quoted in Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 196.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 504-8; see also Gelber, Hazharat Balfour vetoldoteha, Jerusalem, 1939, p. 135 et seq.
† Quoted in Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 529.
‡ L. Stein (ed.), Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, London, 1968, vol. i, p. 37.
* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 148.
† C. Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, London, 1953, p. 170.
‡ Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 138.
§ Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, p. 190.
* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 157.
† Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 144-5.
‡ Ibid., p. 127.
§ H. Samuel, Memoirs, London, 1945, p. 143.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 113.
† Ibid., p. 166 et seq; Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 156 et seq.
* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 157.
† Quoted in Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, pp. 213, 216.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 222.
† Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 150.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 144.
† Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 150.
‡ D.D. Gillon, ‘The Antecedents of the Balfour Declaration’, Middle Eastern Studies, May 1969, pp. 132–3; see also, Aaron S. Klieman, ‘Britain’s War Aims in the Middle East in 1915’, Journal of Contemporary History, July 1968, p. 237 et seq.
* Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 111.
† Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 152.
‡ Ibid., p. 157.
* Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, p. 193; Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 158.
† Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 178.
* The debate is analysed in I. Friedman, ‘The McMahon-Hussain Correspondence and the Question of Palestine’, Journal of Contemporary History, April 1970. See also Arnold Toynbee’s reply, ibid., October 1970.
† On the making of the Sykes-Picot agreement, see E. Kedourie, England and the Middle East, London, 1956, pp. 29–66.
‡ Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 276.
* Gillon, ‘The Antecedents of the Balfour Declaration’, p. 133; see also B. Balpern, The Idea of the Jewish State, Cambridge, 1961, p. 276.
† Kedourie, England and the Middle East, p. 86.
‡ Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 331.
* N. Gelber, Hazharat Balfour vetoldoteha, Jerusalem, 1939, pp. 59–61.
† N. Sokolow, Geschichte des Zionismus, Berlin, 1921, vol. 2, p. 386.
‡ Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 399.
§ Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, p. 202; see also Gelber, Hazharat Balfour vetoldoteha p. 85 et seq.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 391-2.
† D. Lloyd George, War Memoirs, London, 1936, vol. 4, p. 1835.
* The Times, 24 May 1917.
† Sokolow, Geschichte des Zionismus, vol. 2, pp. 391-8.
‡ Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 446-8.
* Ibid., p. 441.
* Ibid., p. 466.
† Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 204.
* War cabinet meeting, 4 October 1917: PRO London, cab. 23-4, 245. Quoted in Zechlin, Die deutsche Politik…, p. 407.
† Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 206.
‡ PRO, 25 October 1917, cab. 23-4. Quoted in Zechlin, Die deutsche Politik …, p. 409.
* D. Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties, London, 1938, vol. 2, p. 1123 et seq.
† N. Sokolow, History of Zionism, London, 1919, vol. 1, p. xxv.
‡ Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp. 207-8.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, pp. 560-2.
† Jüdische Rundschau, 16 November 1917.
‡ Zechlin, Die deutsche Politik…, p. 420.
§ Jüdische Rundschau, 30 November 1917.
‖ Zechlin, Die deutsche Politik…, p. 422.
* Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 590.
† Ibid., p. 593.
* Ibid., p. 284.
† Ibid., p. 554.
‡ Ibid., p. 554.
* Quoted in Gillon, ‘The Antecedents of the Balfour Declaration,’ p. 147.
* Jon Kimche, The Unromantics: The Great Powers and the Balfour Declaration, London, 1968, p. 45.
† Quoted in Stein, The Balfour Declaration, p. 552.
‡ Ibid., p. 160.
§ Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 152.
* Sykes, Two Studies in Virtue, pp. 233-4.
† Sokolow, History of Zionism, vol. 2, p. 84.
* Observer, quoted in Sokolow, ibid., p. 86.