Ten years ago it was Crimca and the Ukraine as Ersatz for Palestine. Today it is Biro-Bidjan. Tomorrow it will be Syria Time and again, substitutes for Palestine are discovered, and while they are marketable for a time in the campaign-world of Jewish philanthropy, they are ultimately discarded.
We were never opposed to Jewish colonization in Crimea and the Ukraine but we discounted from the start the fantastic claims which were made for it. American Jewish millionaires and their satellites â€” the “welfare” folk throughout the landâ€”were enthralled by the project which persuasive experts from abroad so plausibly outlined to them. Thus it was conclusively demonstrated that Russian Jewry was doomed to a quick and certain death unless it went on the land by the hundreds of thousands and turned peasant. Those good at figuring, and at mixing figures with, politics. showed how much cheaper it was to settle a Jewish family on Russian than on Palestinian soil, how much more land and better land, there was available in Russia, and how much more liberal the Soviet Government would be than the indifferent or hostile Government of Palestine.
The confidently expected ruralization of Russian Jewry did not materialize. The Russian Jewish masses did not stampede to the soil. The opportunities which were offered to them by the rapid industrial development of Russia, especially since the inauguration of the Five Year Plan, pulled many of those Jews who had previously settled on the land back to the town and cities. One hears much less rhapsody today about the Jewish colonies in the Crimea and the Ukraine. Nor are they any longer spoken of a Ersatz for Palestine.
Today it is Biro-Bidjan. From newspaper reports it seems as if every week thousands of Jews were going there, or were clamoring to go there or were already there. At regular intervals, one reads of the Soviet Government voting breath-taking sums of money for the Biro-Bidian autonomous Jewish region. Every news item is calculated to make one admire not only the generosity but the eagerness of the Soviet Government and, per c#ntra, to ruminate bitterly over the dilatoriness and niggardliness of the Palestinian Government with which Jews are forced to squabble daily about immigration certificates, jobs, land purchases, etc. Thus Lord Marley neatly points out that: “Bureya has the advantage of not having a native population. It is an almost uninhabited country. There will be no clash with the Arabs. Also there is no British government to impede progress.”
Occasionally, one does come upon a news item which serves to temper one’s ecstasy over Biro-Bidjan. Thus it appears that “during the last four years, from October 1930, #0,000 people emigrated to Bureya and 10,000 re-emigrated. In 1932. 6,000 out of 9,000 arrivals re-emigrated, and in 1933, the number of re-emigrants was larger than the number of arrivals….” Hersch Brill, Comzet representative in Biro-Bidjan, complains in “Emes,” Yiddish communist organ in Moscow, chat “according to the schedule for the past six years in which the work of settlement has been going on, there should now be at least 50,000 settlers in Bureya. There are hardly 10,000 now.’
Theoretically, there can be no objection to another autonomous Jewish region besides Palestine. Other peoplesâ€”the English, for exampleâ€”have established quite a number of autonomous regions in different parts of the world. Why not the Jews?…
But here, again, we are admonished not to be hasty in identifying one autonomous region with another. P. Sprach, of the “Emes,” writes: “We must not allow the Jewish nationalist region to color the relations of the Jewish masses with the national coloring which the Jewish national bourgeois abroad and also in the Soviet countries will certainly attempt to do. There have already been such who have described Bureya as the Soviet Palestine, an idea which is organically foreign to us.”
Of course. it is! What is intended in that extreme Far Eastern corner of Siberian Russia is not so much an autonomous national region for the Jewish people as a bulwark and outpost for the Russian empire. There is a war between Russia and Japan in the offingâ€”a seemingly inescapable war. Russia is making feverish preparations in anticipation of that fateful event. What Moscow is interested in at the moment, is not so much the survival of Yiddish culture or Yiddish nationality, as the quick establishment at that strategic point of a large and loyal frontier population which will act as a dyke against a possible invasion. The “autonomy” element is the bait offered so Russian and world Jewry. Even Dr. Joseph Rosen, prime leader of the Russian colonization movement, acknowledges that “there is, of course, the question of war clouds’ overhanging the Far East.” “But,” he adds, “with the present situation in Europe, it is not easy to say where the danger for the Jewish masses is greater, in the Far East, or in the Near West” This last statement is, of course, an ingenious but inconsequential argument and one calculated unjustifiably to allay apprehension. The establishment of a large Jewish community in another danger zone in the Far East will not lessen the dangers confronting the existing communities in the Near West…. The wisdom of creating voluntarily a new Jewish settlement in a new danger zone receives no endorsement from the fact that an old danger zone already exists elsewhere which the new will not displace.
Other than this vital consideration of the dangers to which Jewish settlers in Biro-Bidjan would be exposed in case of war, there is no practical reason why anyone should be opposed to Russian Jews settling there if they wish to or have to. (Transplanting Jews from Poland or other parts of Eastern Europe to Biro-Bidjan is quite another matter….) But as an Ersatz for Palestine, as a substitute for the National Jewish Homeland, or even as an important movement for the solution of the economic problems of Jewry of Eastern Europe, It is preposterous. We trust that our all-too-gullible Jewish philanthropists will not permit themselves to be persuaded that Biro-Bidjan is another opportunity to “save” the Jewish people and another call upon them and upon world Jewry to raise funds. The recent visit of Dr. Rosen and Dr. Zegelnitsky, Director of the Ort, to Biro-Bidjan, seems to suggest that such a fund-raising campaign is being seriously considered.
Syria, too, will soon become an Ersatz for Palestine. Negotiations between the Committee for the Defense of Jewish Rights in Central and Eastern Europe and the French Government have resulted in permission being granted for the immigration and settlement of 10,000 Jews in Syria. France wants for her mandated territory of Syria, something of the prosperity which the Jews have brought to Palestine. It wants, furthermore, a Jewish population in Syria to play off against the politically intransigeant Syrian-Arabs. At first. French authorities stipulated that only Jewish capitalists should come to Syria, and (with an eye to its southern neighbor) only avowed anti-Zionists…They finally consented to admit also Jewish artisans and agriculturists. Land is available if Jews will drain the swamps and ray for it. In return the Jews will receive permission to “adapt themselves to the customs of their future home and to study Arabic and French” (which study will be made obligatory)….The Jews will help “to further the increased progress of French industry in the deserted territories of S#cia, in collaboration with French and Syrian personalities. …”
It is announced that a preliminary colonization organization will soon be formed, i. e.. an appeal will be made to the Jews of the world to finance this project, and campaign literature will soon play up Syrian colonization as another great international Jewish “cause.” It will be pointed out how much cheaper it is to settle a Jewish family on Sy#an soil than on Palestinian soil, etc.. etc….
But there is #o Ersatz for Palestine! For Palestine is not a colonization project or a relief measure. It is nation building. It is not an emergency place of refuge, a night’s lodging. It is Home! Palestine is the Jewish soul seeking reincarnation and new life in the physical realities of a native land and language, a distinctive culture and an autonomous political form. Jews will buildâ€” and it is desirable that they should buildâ€”farm settlements all over the world, in the Argentine, in Syria, in Biro-Bidjan.
But the Jewish people will build Palestine!