Friday, May 8, 2009

Theodore Hertzl and the State of Israel

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

Theodore Hertzl is the father of the Zionist movement, a rather unusual honour for a man who was not terribly religious and always opposed organized religion, which he called uncivilized. His family were German speaking assimilated Jews, who followed a secular lifestyle.

When at university Theodore belonged to the Burschenschaften, an association of university students inspired by liberal and nationalistic ideas. However, he was moved by anti-Semitism and felt that it could never be defeated, and the only solution was the establishment of a Jewish state.

“ The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised countries—see, for
instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America. ”

Palestine was his first choice for such a state, so he arranged a meeting with Sultan Abdulhamid II in 1896, with his proposal, but he would have none of it. "if one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land." (1)

The following year he founded the First Zionist Congress and began a series of diplomatic initiatives intended to build support for a Jewish country, also looking at possibly Egypt or Uganda. However, the congress was determined to make Palestine their home and so they began buying up land from absentee landlords, which ultimately drove many peasants from their homes.

According to Jews for Justice in the Middle East:

Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, stated ‘We shall try to spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the border by procuring employment for it in transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly’ ... (2)

In 1901 the Jewish National Fund was created ‘to redeem the land of Palestine as the inalienable possession of the Jewish people'.

At various locations in northern Palestine Arab farmers refused to move from land the Fund purchased from absentee owners, and the Turkish authorities, at the Fund’s request, evicted them...The indigenous Jews of Palestine also reacted negatively to Zionism. They did not see the need for a Jewish state in Palestine and did not want to exacerbate relations with the Arabs.”

An article by Yitzhak Epstein, published in Hashiloah in 1907...called for a new Zionist policy towards the Arabs after 30 years of settlement activity... no good land is vacant, so Jewish settlement meant Arab dispossession...Epstein’s solution to the problem, so that a new “Jewish question” may be avoided, is the creation of a bi-national, non-exclusive program of settlement and development. Purchasing and should not involve the dispossession of poor sharecroppers. It should mean creating a joint farming community, where the Arabs will enjoy modern technology. Schools, hospitals and libraries should be non-exclusivist and education bilingual ... The vision of non-exclusivist, peaceful cooperation to replace the practice of dispossession found few takers. Epstein was maligned and scorned for his faintheartedness.” (2)

The Zionist movement took on steam and on November 2, 1917, on the initiative of Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour and Baron Rothschild (Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild) a formal statement of policy was announced by the British government:

"His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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." (2)

But they soon became alarmed:

“Britain’s high commissioner for Palestine, John Chancellor, recommended total suspension of Jewish immigration and land purchase to protect Arab agriculture. He said ‘all cultivable land was occupied; that no cultivable land now in possession of the indigenous population could be sold to Jews without creating a class of landless Arab cultivators’...

In 1919, the American King-Crane Commission spent six weeks in Syria and Palestine, interviewing delegations and reading petitions. Their report stated, “The commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor...The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conferences with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase... “If [the] principle [of self-determination] is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine — nearly nine-tenths of the whole — are emphatically against the entire Zionist program.. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted...No British officers, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms.The officers generally thought that a force of not less than fifty thousand soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program...The initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a ‘right’ to Palestine based on occupation of two thousand years ago, can barely be seriously considered. (2)

Leo Strauss's friend Walter Moses, from his days with the Blau-Weiss, part of the Zionist Youth movement, became an early and prosperous settler, but as to be expected, the Arab population fought against the arrival of even more settlers and petitioned the League of Nations in 1928:

"It is the duty of the League of Nations, after ten years of absolute colonial rule, to grant to Palestine a democratic parliamentary government in accordance with the League's pledges and the pledges of the allies to the Arabs. "The people of Palestine cannot and will not tolerate the present absolute colonial system, and urgently insist upon and demand an alteration." Christians and Jews were shocked at this evidence of infidel determination to make of Palestine a home for Arabs. (3)

In 1936-9, the Palestinian Arabs attempted a nationalist revolt...

David Ben-Gurion, eminently a realist, recognized its nature. In internal discussion, he noted that ‘in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us,’ but he urged, ‘let us not ignore the truth among ourselves.’ The truth was that ‘politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside’... The revolt was crushed by the British, with considerable brutality.” Tensions continued and raids on Jewish settlements escalated. (2)

According to Ghandi:

“Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French...What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct...If they [the Jews] must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs... As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regard as an unacceptable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.” (2)
Two wrongs did not make a right. There was an opportunity, as Yitzhak Epstein suggested, for Arabs, Jews and and Christians to live in peace, but that notion was rejected. And the violence continued:

For weeks Jews and Arabs had uneasily bided their time, waiting on London's word. London, in turn, was waiting on Washington's word. Last week Jews and Arabs refused to wait any longer. Both factions concentrated on the 28the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2).* For both it was an unhappy
milestone—for the Jews because of a promise made and unfulfilled, for the Arabs because the promise had been made at all. In advance, the Arabs had proclaimed a
general strike throughout the Near East on that day. But the Jews struck first.

Two nights before the anniversary, explosions rocked Palestine from Dan to Beersheba. Armed bands, operating under a master plan of sabotage, crippled the country's railroads with dynamitings at 153 points. In Haifa harbor, where a British cruiser and four destroyers lay at anchor, police launches used for halting illegal immigrants were boarded and scuttled. At dawn six men were dead, eight wounded. Two of the dead were Jews. British authorities clamped a curfew on the whole coastal area.

Speaking for Britain's normally pro-Jewish Labor Government, Colonial Secretary George Hall denounced "the dastardly series of outrages" in Palestine, carefully planned by a "very considerable organization among the Jewish community." Hall did not identify the organization. But two groups, both disavowed by the Jewish Agency, were almost certainly involved: the strongly militant underground Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization) and its still more aggressive offshoot, a gang of gunmen who called themselves "Israel's Freedom Fighters." Both were well armed, experienced guerrillas whose credo was: the time for talk is past.

Never before had so many Palestinian Jews sympathized with the guerrillas. Even the sober Palestine Post affirmed that Jews had gone over "from defensive to offensive action." But Britain was bitter. Secretary Hall bluntly warned Palestine's Jews that they could expect no help from London if violence was to be their policy.

Prime Minister Attlee, preparing to talk things over with President Truman (see INTERNATIONAL), knew that no decision would please everybody. Now he also knew that procrastination was as dangerous as decision. (4)

Eventually Truman did make a decision, siding with the Zionists. As he explained: “I am sorry gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.” (2)


When the announcement was made in May of 1948 that Israel was to become a state, an eight-year-old boy was listening to the radio. The son of a revivalist preacher, he turned to his father, wondering what this meant, and his father stated: "This is the most important biblical day in the 20th Century. For all the prophets of the Old Testament have now been vindicated and Israel has been born."

That boy would grow up to be a preacher himself and made it his mission to fulfill his father's assessment. And that is how John Hagee became a millionaire.


1. The Making of the Modern Near East 1792-1923, By M. E. Yapp, Longman, 1987, ISBN 0-582-49380-3, Pg. 290

2. The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict, Published by Jews for Justice in the Middle East

3. PALESTINE: Intolerable! Time Magazine, July 16, 1928

4. THE NEAR EAST: Eruption, Time Magazine, November 12, 1945

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