Berlin Kehillah Elections Show Deep Conflict Between Ideas of Nationalism and Assimilation
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Berlin Kehillah Elections Show Deep Conflict Between Ideas of Nationalism and Assimilation

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A deep conflict between the ideas of Jewish nationalism and those of assimilation in Germany was revealed by the recent elections for executive members of the Berlin Jewish community. As a result of these elections the assimilationists emerged with a majority, although the Zionist Volkspartei increased its vote by 52 percent.

Writing on the results of the elections from a Zionist standpoint, Kurt Blumenfeld, leader of German Zionism, says in the latest number of his Juedische Rundschau:

“Zionism was the great issue in this election. If there were some in our own ranks who didn’t wish the issue to be made so clear-cut, our opponents saw to it that every Jew should know what the issue was. The contention which I have been making for years, that the old quarrel between Orthodoxy and Liberalism has vanished and that the conflict between Zionism and anti-Zionism has taken its place, a contention which was denied even in Zionist circles, has been confirmed anew by this election. The majority of Jews are not yet Zionists, but he who reads the results of this election right must realize that Zionism is making continual progress. Our cause would be no less just if the number of its adherents were less, but the correctness of our diagnosis of the situation of world Jewry is proved when today a very large number of Jews are willing to march under the Zionist banner. At every future election we will make new progress.”


One of the points at issue between the nationalists and assimilationists during this election campaign was whether the Jewish communal organizations of Germany should erect purely Jewish factories and shops, which should give work to unemployed Jews, and should call upon Jewish merchants to buy from these factories. The Liberal Jews contended that this would make the Jewish economic situation in Germany even worse than it is today, since it would give German anti-Semites good arguments for boycotting Jewish firms, while the Zionists argued that Jewish factories in Germany are the only solution to the present economic plight of German Jewry, harassed as it already is by economic boycotts. Jewish schools were also a point of contention between the two factions.

During their campaign against the Zionists, the assimilationists, or Liberal element, accused the former of indirectly aiding the Hitlerites and other anti-Semites in Germany. In this connection the Liberale-Zeitung quoted from a book by a Zionist theoretician, Jacob Klatzkin, which says among other things that Zionists would “rather see Jews without civic equality than civic equality without Jews” and that Jewish nationalists admit that Jews are “an alien body among the nations and wish to remain such.” Underneath the quotation from Klatzkin’s book, the Liberale-Zeitung wrote: “Thus the Zionists are justifying the National Socialist demands.”


In support of its anti-nationalist viewpoint, the Liberale-Zeitung quoted the late Walter Rathenau, Jacob Wasserman and Stefan Zweig. From Rathenau it quoted the following:

“For two thousand years the spirit of Judaism has been leading the world, since throughout that period it has renounced the beliefs in nationalism, state, church, dogma and myth. They are romanticists and reactionaries who wish to bind this spirit with Zionism and bring it back to the eras of David and Ezra.”

Wasserman is quoted as follows: “I found and still find that Judaism, reaching its full fruition in the Diaspora and sanctified through two millenia, is the last protecting wall of humanity against the onslaughts of the new barbarism known as nationalism. Recently I read that a Jewish sport club refused to accept members who are not Zionists. Here you see all the poverty of soul, all the bigotry of nationalism. What difference is there then between such Jews and the rabid phraseology of our ‘Voelkische’? None. If one adds to 99 parties of hate and strife a hundredth one, one has stopped being human.”

Zweig is quoted by the Liberale-Zeitung as saying: “Religion is our Jerusalem.”

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