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Speaking My Mind

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Zionism came to proclaim that Jewish emancipation was the wrong road, that we are not British or American or German citizens of the Jewish faith, but members of a Jewish nation, and that our only hope lies in the restoration of Jewish national life in Palestine, and elsewhere in Jewish national rights, in Jewish national autonomy. Zionism preached a reversal of the assimilation tendency of Jewish life.

“To the German Kaiser I would say,” Theodor Herzl once wrote, prophetically selecting Germany for his example, ” ‘Let us go out. We are aliens. You will not allow us to merge in your people, nor can we do that. Let us go out. I shall show you by what methods and with what means I shall carry out this exodus, so that there will be no economic upheaval, no void left behind us’.”

Either emigrate where there will be a full Jewish life, or remain behind and be absorbed.

There was no hedging, no attempt to pretend that it was possible to have it both ways. Emancipation was a sham, hollow, unreal, built on shifting sand. Zionists were there to proclaim that Jews were a distinct nationality with their own national life, and their own national aspirations, and Zionism was going to lead them out.

And now when emancipation is tottering in one of the great European countries (or seems to be), instead of proclaiming their conviction boldly, Zionists have suddenly turned champions of emancipation.

Dr. Sokolow, in his opening speech to the Prague Congress, struck that note at the very outset. “We stand for the belief,” he said, “that Zionism and emancipation are inseparable and mutually conditioned. There is no normal effective Zionism so long as the Jews are not equal citizens in the countries in which they live.” The resolution adopted by the Congress on the German situation insists that ‘the Zionist ideal can never be identified with readiness to surrender full equality and security of the vital rights of the Jewish communities in the various countries.”

But did those who achieved and helped Jews to achieve emancipation intend such yea and nay? Those who demanded emancipation did so, firmly believing that they live only by religion. “Why a man should be less fit for citizenship because he does not eat ham, because he goes to Synagogue on Saturdays and not to Church on Sundays, we cannot conceive,” was the way Macaulay put it in his great speech on Jewish disabilities, the charter of Jewish emancipation in England. “On nine hundred and ninety-nine questions out of a thousand,” he continues. “on questions of finance, of civil and criminal law, of foreign policy, the Jew as a Jew has no interest hostile to that of the Christian.” And it was because this argument was accepted that emancipation came. The premise may have been false, there may be a good deal in the Zionist case, but this definitely was the premise on which emancipation was demanded and obtained.

Zionism has a different conception, and a different solution, and that solution is definitely antagonistic to the ideal of emancipation. Herzl saw emancipation as the cause of anti-Semitism. “In the principal countries where anti-Semitism prevails it does so as a result of the emancipation of the Jews,” he said.

The Protest Rabbis were not wrong in protesting against Zionism, starting out as they did from their conviction that emancipation was their goal. People can’t be walking westward and break off to accompany someone else who is walking due east. That sort of thing is one of the later developments of fuddle-mindedness in Jewish life. Zangwill saw it when he pointed out that Zionists must have dropped something fundamental if anti-Zionists can join them in their work.

There is much more than that in the ideology of Zionism, and for good or ill that ideology runs utterly counter to the ideology of emancipation. That was clearly seen and proclaimed in the early days, both by the founders of Zionism and by its opponents, and no amount of slurring will get over that fact. They are opposite poles.

There are a great many anti-Semites, even Hitlerist Deputies, who applaud the Zionist aim. There was a remarkable debate some time back in the Prussian Parliament in which a Hitlerist Deputy stated from his point of view an excellent Zionist case, that the Jews are a distinctive nation, and must build up a national life of their own in Palestine, even expressing the hope that it, would be an important and glorious new period in Jewish life, insisting on only one thing, that they withdraw their alien substance from Germany and leave the Germans to work out their own salvation, free from Jewish infusion. And the pro-Jew, a Social Democrat who followed, seeking to controvert the Hitlerist. claimed equal rights for the Jews by denouncing everything that Zionism stands for, arguing a case for complete assimilation, utter absorption, even religiously, much on the lines of Soviet Russia’s solution of the Jewish question. Which is the pro-Jew, and which the anti-Semite?

It is well known, too, that in a number of countries, as for instance, in Roumania, anti-Semitic governments have always got on best with the Zionists, who they say, agree with them that the Jews are not Roumanians, and that the Jews who regard themselves as thoroughly Roumanian found the Government basing itself on the Zionists to repudiate their claims to equality.

Zionism need not feel distressed at that. For to Zionism equality of rights was never real, was only a pretence that had to be exposed, and Zionists considered that they were doing a great and essential work by exposing the pretence and in place of it striving to build up something real, a solidly-based, honest, complete Jewish life. The methods and aims of Zionism were and are different. Its achievements in the long run may or may not be recognized as more important and beneficial, to Jews and to the world at large than emancipation. But the two things are not the same. And it is time people stopped pretending that they are. There has been too much running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. We want to know where we stand.

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