Hal Draper

Zionism, Israel & the Arabs

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Chapter IX

The Triple Crisis of Zionism

Hal Draper, Zionism, Israel & the Arabs, pp.pp. 139–161.

Labor Action, Vol. 15 No. 38, September 17, 1951, pp./nbsp;6–7

One of the few things about which the Zionist movement in all its sections is pretty unanimously agreed is that the whole movement is today racked from top to bottom by a violent organizational and ideological crisis. The second point, under this, is that the crisis stems from the existence of the state of Israel itself.

Note: it stems from the fact that Israel exists, not from any special difficulties of that state. There is also, to be sure, a much-discussed crisis in Israel itself; but this does not contribute to the crisis of the Zionist movement – if anything, it mitigates its force. The crisis of Zionism is due to that which it hails as its historic success.

This is all very well recognized:

Now the state is established ... and the Zionist organizations are left minus members and without a mass-movement ideology. There has been a great searching for redefinition but so far no new definition has emerged. – E. Katz, president of the Intercollegiate Zionist Federation, in the Student Zionist, February.

Perhaps the chief impression [at the convention of the Zionist Organization of America] was one of crisis and also how to explain the crisis. The ZOA now claims a membership of about 164,000. This is a significant drop from the ‘quarter million members’ which were cited only about a year ago. – Jewish Frontier, July.

... An intellectual crisis which cuts across parties, but divides Zionists in Israel from Zionist elsewhere. Spokesmen for the divergent viewpoints are trying hard to meet the crisis with the dignity and forbearance becoming to a dilemma so deep and so wounding ... Zionism reached its zenith in the creation of the state. But because of this, Zionism outside Israel has touched its nadir. – Lead article in the Jerusalem Post, Aug. 17.

The rise of the Jewish state brought them [Zionists] a tremendous feeling of elation and triumph, while it also administered a severe jolt to their movement... It is doubtful whether all our friends in Israel realize to the present day the extent and nature of this crisis ...

Suddenly and at one stroke, the Zionist Organization was shorn of its political prerogatives and much of its authority... Zionists were not only dejected, but confused, having no clear idea where and how they fitted into the new picture... the Zionist prognosis... doctrine... ideal had triumphed... [Yet] In point of fact its position has tended to deteriorate... This proud position [is] now threatened with collapse. – Emanuel Neumann, in the Zionist Quarterly (ZOA), Summer.

The roots of the Zionist crisis which stems from the setting up of the state of Israel are three. They are quite distinct and with independent effects, though not equally important or fundamental, not equally recognized consciously by the Zionists themselves, and certainly confusingly interlocked in the discussions and struggles within that movement.

  1. The one which the Zionists refer to as “the ideological question” is simply: “What is Zionism now, anyway?” and “What is a Zionist today?” What makes it an ideological crisis is that the answer lies not in providing a definition but in providing a reason for continued existence for the Zionist movement as such, now that Zion itself exists.
  2. With Israel there was born Israeli nationalism as distinct from Jewish nationalism. It has made itself felt in a short space of time, not least within the Zionist movement. Within Israel, of course, there is no conflict between the two simply because the two are identified. For the Zionists outside, they cannot be. The national antagonisms within the Zionist movement are more than visible to the naked eye.
  3. The Zionist movement has always been divided into political parties – “General” Zionist (bourgeois conservative), Labor Zionist (socialistic, further subdivided into reformist and would-be Marxist), Revisionist (chauvinist to fascist), Religious, Stalinoid, etc. As can be seen, its spectrum is that of a state. The struggles were often fierce enough before there was any state power to be the object of the struggle. Now there is. The political antagonisms outside Israel now take on flesh and blood in terms of classes in Israel and their conflict for control of the government, and tend to become as irreconcilable as the class struggle itself.

The World Zionist Congress which was concluded at the end of August in Jerusalem mirrored and focused all the strains and confusions set up within Zionism by these three sources of crisis.

It could not and did not resolve the crisis; it had not really been expected to do so by anyone. But through the struggles at the Congress, as in the discussion which preceded it, the triple crisis of Zionism is quite clear.

1. The Political Antagonism

Zionism has already achieved a remarkable result – something hitherto deemed impossible. I refer to the close union of the most modern with the most conservative elements of Jewry. – Theodor Herzl, at the first World Zionist Congress at Basle, 1897.

That was more or less true (and incidentally an index to the character of Zionism) up to the creation of the state. The union is now strained more and more.

We take it up first not because it is most important but because it is easiest to see. Mainly, at the present stage, it is a complication which serves to embitter and sharpen the crisis.

The power struggle in the movement is largely between the Israeli and American Zionist leaders, but it is not, of course, accidental that the most influential leaders and spokesmen of the Americans (Abba Hillel Silver, Emanuel Neumann, Benjamin Browdy, etc.) and the main organization, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), are General-Zionist in politics. Their co-thinkers are the men of Israel’s leading bourgeois party, the main opposition to Ben-Gurion’s Labor Party (Mapai).

For both sides this is not simply a matter of political theory, to be shelved by them in their capacity as Zionists. As we said, state power is at stake. For the Americans, of course, it cannot directly be their state power, but it is state power in “their” Zion. Not less than their non-Jewish class-counterparts in this country, they are morbidly antagonistic to socialism, which they see in Mapai’s controlled economy, labor base and program. For them the Israeli General Zionists’ program (unreconstructed capitalism) is not only the American Way but also ordained. They cannot take lightly the fact that the state which they fathered and financed and which is the incarnation of their dream is in the hands of men who stand for anti-capitalism.

The ZOA, for the first time in its history, at its convention earlier this year, voted overwhelmingly to identify itself formally with the Israeli General-Zionist party. It meant throwing down a gage. At the ZOA convention, as well as in Jerusalem, Silver went out of his way to take a crack at socialism. Part of the struggle at the world congress turned on “how much of a say in the development of Israel the Zionist movement outside the country should be entitled to in return for its economic aid,” as the N.Y. Times reported (Aug. 26), and by “the Zionist movement” it is the American bourgeois Zionists who are meant in the first place.

“Translated into practical terms,” continues the dispatch, “this, of course, means a measure of authority over immigration, the rate and sources of economic development, and inevitably Ben-Gurion’s people believe this would have a political effect as well.”

Naturally! And when the Israeli General-Zionists’ allies from America yell that they want more determining power in fields which vitally affect Israeli economic policy, they can hardly be considered to be entirely naive. “The underlying issue ... is whether the world Zionist movement shall influence life in Israel or whether it should be a welfare organization,” explained the Jerusalem Post (Aug. 14) – and what happens when the would-be influencers of life in Israel are enemies of the governing party?

The bitterest words in connection with the otherwise carefully restrained world congress flowed from this antagonism. Rabbi Silver started the very day before the congress opened with an open accusation at a press conference that the Israeli government had undermined American Jewry because it wanted non-interference from U.S. Zionists in political matters and “nothing pleased Washington more” – hence the drift of State Department policy away from Israel. He did not make explicit the inference that Ben-Gurion should tolerate interference from his American Zionist antagonists in the country’s political affairs, or else.

On the other hand, Ben-Gurion’s denunciation of the ZOA leaders had been even more slashing. At the congress Browdy had to stand up to rebut the former’s statement labeling the ZOA “enemies of labor” and an outfit of labor-baiters. (He might have been more convincing if it had not been true, for one thing, that at the ZOA convention one of the chief speakers had waxed enthusiastic in praising the Israeli General-Zionists for supporting the right not to join a trade union.)

In a speech prior to the world congress on August 8, Ben-Gurion had cuttingly denounced the ZOA by name: “The leaders of this movement live in deceit ... The nation must know that the Zionist Organization of America has ceased to be a Zionist organization”: and pretty clearly referred to them scornfully as a bunch of “merchants, lawyers, and rabbis.”

Perhaps the most heated moment on the open floor of the congress came when, after Rabbi Silver had been given time to speak his piece, Mrs. Golda Meyerson rose to answer him for Ben-Gurion, before a hall packed to see the sparks fly. Among other things she “demanded to know what Zionist leaders in America had done to refute the libels that the Israeli government was preventing private capital and foreign investors from participating in Israel’s upbuilding. She asked whether some of these same leaders had not helped fan ‘the fires of allegation.’” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Aug. 20) The political struggle within Israel itself was being echoed.

It is, of course, not necessary to charge the gentlemen from the ZOA with the deliberate intent to substitute their own influence as foreign Zionists for the failure of the Israeli General-Zionists to do better in the last elections. The capacity of men to believe “sincerely” that they are acting not as “partisans” but only in the best interests of humanity is virtually infinite. But it is this which gave part of its heat to the congress issue of “special status” for the Zionist movement.

The Americans came to Jerusalem with the No. 1 demand that the world Zionist organization, rather than the Israeli government and its agencies, be given a monopoly on the activities of Jewry all over the world on behalf of Israel. As Silver said, demanding a “charter” for the Zionist organizations:

“What we mean by ‘charter’ is not just affording the [Zionist] Jewish Agency diplomatic status in Tel Aviv. ... We want the Zionist movement to be recognized as the channel for all important activities of Jews on behalf of the state of Israel.”

They talked in terms of a “semi-governmental” status for the Zionist executive. The Israelis had more than good ground to suspect that what the Americans were demanding would mean in practice their assumption of a good measure of control and influence in Israel’s foreign economic activities and consequently a long finger in all of Israel’s affairs.

Under the circumstances this was more than a modest demand. Ben-Gurion rejected it, counterposing (perhaps only tactically) the demand that the Americans first recognize their obligation to aid Israel unconditionally regardless of their hostility to the political composition of its government.

Silver especially was quite clear on what he was demanding: “We do want, however, a say on how the money [raised for Israel] is spent. No taxation without representation, we say.” There were the Americans, with the slogan of 1775 demagogically on their lips, demanding control over a vital part of another country’s internal policies. The Israelis replied in effect that if Rabbi Silver wanted a voice in Israel’s affairs, he would have to settle down as an Israeli citizen.

Browdy, at the congress, resorted to more weasely formulas: “We have no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of Israel,” he said piously, “but we have every desire to make sure its foundations are firm and will resist the ravages of time.” And later: “We are prepared to work unconditionally, but not at the expense of our self-respect.”

The Americans had two weapons with which to enforce their demand against the position of the Israelis: their influence in the world Zionist organization – and the almighty dollar. And it can be argued that these two are one. Everyone knew, as the report to the congress later stated, that American Jews had given 75 per cent of all moneys received by Keren Hayesod, the Development Fund, in the last 5 years.

The Americans were not too bashful about waving the dollar in a threatening pose. Silver hinted broadly: “Jews are not automats which release coins upon the pressing of a button ...” And in his speech to the congress he “warned, however, that should Jews overseas begin to feel that Israel flouts them completely, ‘they might cease to help you and there will be nothing you can do about it.’” (JTA, Aug. 20)

At the World General Zionist caucus in Jerusalem just before the congress, the Americans threatened to make sure that the Jews would not act as “automats”:

“The greatest impression was made by the speech of the chairman of the ZOA Executive Committee, Mortimer May, who said that the time had come to explain to American Jewry the internal problems of Israel. ‘For a long time’, said Mr. May, ‘I was of the opinion that not everything about Israel should be told in the U.S., since I felt that it might harm the Zionist movement. But we must now change our way of thinking.” (ZINS, the ZOA news service)

Naturally, extreme threats by both sides must be taken with a grain of salt, since the American Zionists need their relation with Israel (otherwise how exist as Zionists at all?) as much as the Israelis need the former’s dollars. But the threats were there, including May’s to bring the Israeli election campaign home to New York. Everyone knew a compromise would be reached, as it was; it was a question of who got how much, and how the vague terms of the compromise would work out in the period ahead.

But it is too easy to see the conflict at the Jerusalem congress in terms of this political antagonism alone or primarily. That would be quite inaccurate. This element of crisis is here to stay, but it is not accidental that we have largely had to speak (as the congress did) in terms of the “Americans” and the “Israelis.”

2. The Nationalist Antagonism

The Zionist axis is no longer, and has not been for 30 years, Tel Aviv-Odessa, but Jerusalem-New York. – Jerusalem Post, Aug. 14.

The axis has developed antagonistic national poles.

For one thing, the American Zionist leaders came to Jerusalem with roughly the same spirit and with the same psychology as the American delegation at the San Francisco conference on the Japanese treaty: as the world’s aristocrats, with wealth and power behind them, and little inclined to play second fiddle to the leaders of a piddling country. That little country is dear to them, of course, because it is Zion, but it is dear to them as their Zion, not as a sovereign state with leaders of its own.

On the other hand, the development of Israeli nationalism (as distinct from Jewish nationalism, remember) and its effect on the character of Zionism in Israel would deserve a special chapter in a book on contemporary Zionism. “It is from here [Israel] that the principles of Zionism shall go forth,” proclaimed Ben-Gurion a week before the congress.

In discussing the “special status” issue in terms of the political antagonisms, we had to be one-sided temporarily. Actually, the national sovereignty of Israel is also involved, and while the Americans could think of this concept only hazily, it meant a great deal more to the Israelis, and not Ben-Gurion’s Israelis alone.

It was not just a matter of the Americans’ “special status” demand versus national sovereignty as an abstraction. It is not hard to feel the reaction of an Israeli to the rich foreign tycoons, too many of whom apparently made manifest their scorn for “our alleged contempt for what a few among our guests consider to be elementary comforts of civilized life (e.g., hotel rooms with private bath),” as a Jerusalem Post article delicately put it.

The same paper editorialized during the congress about such people who come not as pioneer emigrants but as “alien experts with their talents for hire” and it urged that their contribution “be on this country’s hard terms, without setting up two standards, one for those coming from the free, another from the enslaved world. Let not those that come cling to the return ticket as to a lifeboat in a storm; and let them embrace our civilization without a mental reservation about the size of the British Commonwealth of Nations or the United States of America.”

As for the other delegations, it is likewise not hard to feel their reaction before the dollar-power of the Americans and the governmental power of the Israelis. Prior to the Congress, the London Zionist Review had editorialized:

“It is necessary for them [the British delegates] to oppose the idea that the two important centers of world Jewry are America and Israel.” And the president of the British Zionist Federation, speaking at the congress, “expressed fears that Zionists in Europe would be caught in a struggle between the ‘power blocs’ of Israeli and U.S. Zionism.” (JTA, August 17)

Before the dollar-waving of the Americans, the Israelis reacted not as Zionists but in the first place as Israelis. We are not criticizing them for this. On the contrary, it would have taken miserable men – not men who felt they were building a country – to listen without bitterness to one of the American Zionist leaders who actually got up and said:

You don’t know America. It is too big for you to understand. You have fantastic ideas about the United States ... We demand respect from the Zionist movement. Without the Zionist Organization of America, Israel will suffer. (Joseph Tenenbaum)

The interests of Israel as a nation versus the interests of the Zionist movement could not have been more clearly counterposed than in the spectacle during Ben-Gurion’s tour of this country earlier this year. The head of the Zionist state, the symbol of Zionism’s great “victory,” was here – and no reference to Zionism ever passed his lips at any of his meetings. More than that: he cut the whole American Zionist movement dead-cold.

He spoke at numerous meetings, but even the ZOA failed to secure his presence at their big “Salute to Israel” rally, where more than 19,000 waited for him. The president of the ZOA was not among the notables invited to sit on the platform during Ben-Gurion’s Madison Square Garden bond rally. Zionism was never even mentioned in all the speeches and tableaus about the struggle for Israel’s statehood. (He addressed not a single Zionist group until just before catching the boat – and then it was a semi-private meeting which we will discuss under Section 3.)

This is not to be explained by the political antagonism with the pro-General-Zionists of the ZOA; it is too extreme. Besides, he paid no more attention to his own Labor Zionists. And there is another very clear explanation for it, which the American Zionists understand only too well.

It is clear that Ben-Gurion looks on the Zionist movement as an obstacle to mobilizing the fullest aid to Israel from abroad, more than as an aid.

For now virtually the whole Jewish community, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists as well as traditional Zionists, are for aid to Israel. While Zionism was a dream, only the Zionists could be depended on. Now it is a state, a reality, and the old lines do not demarcate out the “friends of Israel.”

The old Zionist movement is the old skin which has to be cast off in the moulting. As a state, Israel looks to and appeals to the Jewish community as such, and its appeal can only suffer if it gets involved with the traditional antagonisms between Zionists and anti-Zionists within the Jewish community. The Zionists, the Israelis feel, cannot hold back from giving. It is the others who are not to be offended, who are to be wooed. (Hence the Zionists’ party hollow threats, in reaction, to hold back the dollars.)

A “prominent Israeli official” is quoted by the Times correspondent in Jerusalem”

Zionism has had a long and useful life and should now be given a decent burial,”he said recently. “We Israelis, who pay taxes, maintain an army, fertilize the desert and bring in hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, cannot be expected to brook interference from Diaspora [non-Israeli] Jews.

At the Jerusalem congress, Nahum Goldmann, president of the congress, countered the demand for “special status” with the argument, among other things, that to give special status to the Zionists “would antagonize the good friends of Israel who are non-Zionists.”

There is no doubt that the “special status” demand was opposed not only (though most sharply) by the Mapai Israelis for the reasons already explained, but by far wider Israeli circles whose motivations were not political-partisan but nationalist. Why should aid to Israel (as far as the Israelis are concerned) be forcibly channelized through a privileged section of the Jewish community – just because of this section’s past services? Let it be given a decent burial, with a cheer.

But the Zionist leaders do not plan to be buried because their existence is inconvenient to the Israelis. Unfortunately for them, however, as we shall see, their chief gravedigger is not Israeli nationalism but their own ideological bankruptcy.

There is another and quite different aspect of the national question in Zionism which bedevils the diaspora Zionists, especially the Americans, as a result of the existence of the Jewish state.

It is the delicate question of “double loyalty.” In words it can be and has been resolved easily enough: We are American Jews loyal to our own country but loving Israel; we are like good Irish-American citizens who love the old sod too; a man can have many loyalties, to family, party, religious group, country, etc. and they are not contradictory ... and so on. This is a perfectly consistent attitude for a non-Zionist “friend of Israel.” Within the framework of the full, undiluted Zionist ideology (which we shall see even more clearly in Section 3) it is not so easy. It may be hard for American Zionists to understand this since the undiluted article is pretty rare in these States.

It was easier for the European Zionist (Labor-Zionist) leader, Jacob Yefroikin, editor of the Paris Kiyum. In the article which we shall quote he is talking what undoubtedly seems another language to most American Zionists. But thinking on the same basis, even though the question of double loyalty is the last question they would dream of bringing up. If Yefroikin is extreme, it is because he is following the heart of Zionism to its logical ends.

President Truman at the beginning of 1948, in his message to the convention of the American Council for Judaism, said: ‘Jews must in their own interests and as loyal citizens, think and act exclusively as Americans.’ And if this hint was not sufficiently obvious, it found a clearer definition in a speech at the same gathering by Carol Binder: ‘If,’ he said, ‘the struggle for a Jewish state ... would eventually have to cost the democratic countries the oil of the Middle East, the Jews of the United States would have to pay dearly for it’ ... These words, veiled in Truman’s and open in Binder’s speeches, expressed not a passing mood; they are valid even now and their echo will be heard far and loud.

“Even now in peacetime, before the storm has broken out, there are Jews, even so-called Zionists, who have the sorry courage to justify morally the preference of American patriotism above the Jewish if there should ever come to a clash between the two.” States the editor of the Reconstructionist in an open letter to Lessing Rosenwald that, in a not-improbable case, if the state of Israel should be involved in a war with the United States, American Jews will act exactly in the same manner as if another country were at war with America and in accordance with their ‘exclusive loyalty’ would fight Israel as Jews of one country always fought Jews of another country, just as American Catholics would fight any Catholic country. (Reconstructionist, March 5)

There is a theory concocted by some Zionists, including Chaim Greenberg [American Labor Zionist theoretician], which says that we Jews are no exception to the general rule. Non-Jews too have many loyalties and this does not prevent them from being loyal citizens of their countries.

This is true ... To each social cell man gives only a part of his loyalty. Only a totalitarian state demands the entire individual for itself. States which recognize a certain degree of individual freedom see nothing wrong in the pluralistic loyalties of its citizens.

All this is true, but our specific Jewish [that is, Zionist – H.D.] problem is not exhausted nor answered by this. For it is one thing to have many loyalties to different objects, and something else to have one’s own loyalty divided and split between two objects of the same category. A man can be true to his father and mother, to his class and state at the same time. But a person cannot have two fathers and two mothers and remain equally loyal to both of them, just as a man cannot belong to two nations at the same time and have two fatherlands. [Italics in original. Quoted from the Jewish Newsletter, July 23]

This question of “double loyalty” arises for the consistent Zionist (if there are any such left in the United States), and not for the Jew, not because the former “loves Israel” with the sentimental or philanthropic attachment of an Irishman for old Erin but because of the consistent ideology of Zionism on the “Jewish nation.” This gets us to Section 3.

But before any American Zionist (as they virtually all do) rejects Yefroikin’s views with sincere astonishment and an unwillingness even to consider such “absurdities” seriously, it would be well to look at Ben-Gurion’s definition of Israel as a state. As a statesman, Ben-Gurion recognizes foreign Zionists’ loyalty to their own country, but that is as a statesman.

The state of Israel differs from all other states in that it is not only the state of its own citizens alone, but of the entire Jewish people, of every Jew wherever he lives.” (Ben-Gurion at the Jerusalem congress)

The state is part of the nation [he is referring to the entire ‘Jewish nation’ in the world – H.D.] The state does not yet constitute the fulfillment of Zionism but it is the main and fundamental means for the Ingathering of the Exiles, and this is the content of Zionism ... Israel is a state not only in respect to its residents – it is a state for the Jewish nation. The constitution of the state of Israel is one small law – the ‘Law of the Return.’ That is the special historic quality designating the raison d’etre of the state of Israel. (Ben-Gurion in speech, Aug. 8)

To be sure, Ben-Gurion does not want any “double loyalty” either. As we shall see, his demand is that every Zionist become an Israeli. But the American Zionists do not want to go to Israel; they want to remain Zionists in the diaspora even while “their own” state exists in the world. But their dilemma in this respect is only a part of their larger dilemma which is the content of the ideological crisis of Zionism, which underlies and embraces all that we have already discussed.

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Labor Action, Vol. 15 No. 39, September 24, 1951, pp. 6–7

3. The Ideological Crisis

Like the political-partisan antagonism, and the nationalist antagonism in the Zionist movement, the present ideological crisis also arose automatically with the fact of the existence of Israel. As we have explained, what is involved is the very reason for existence of the Zionist movement, as a distinct movement, in the diaspora.

Before Israel came into being, the mission of the Zionist movement was clear: to work for the creation of the Jewish state. The non-Zionists did not support this aim, would not do so, and certainly would not contribute money to do so. But now, with Israel in existence as the Jewish state, virtually all in the Jewish community (not to speak of many non-Jews) are for aid to Israel, aid to its development, and interested in how the U.S. government treats it.

Of course, the Zionists can claim, probably with justice, that they are the best and most single-minded supporters of Israel, but this is hardly reason enough for the Zionist movement to continue in its present forms. Why not dissolve, for example, to give way to a broader “ginger group” of both Zionists and non-Zionists – that is, actually, a group not based on the Zionist ideology, in which the former Zionists can still be the spark plugs – if it is the broadest aid to Israel that is the object? This is what the soul-searching is about.

It is very clear that a large section of the Zionist movement has in fact decided that there is nothing for it but dissolution. This section is not heard from in the discussions that have raged because it consists of those who have already voted with their feet; for example, the more than 80,000 who quit the Zionist Organization of America in the last year or two.

In an important programmatic article in which ZOA leader Emanuel Neumann went through the problems before the World Zionist Congress at Jerusalem, to-be-or-not-to-be is the first question he raises. (Zionist Quarterly, Summer issue) “We may now proceed on the assumption that the question has been answered in the affirmative,” he says reassuringly, while indicating that “doubts were entertained by some leading personalities in Israel – men who only yesterday had held positions of highest responsibility in the movement.”

It is easy to answer in the affirmative but to find a reason for existence is harder. He presents two: (1) “a strong Zionist movement in the diaspora, with high morale, is indispensable to the state of Israel, for an indeterminate period,” because of the state’s precarious position. But as pointed out, a broader “Society of Friends of Israel” could be even more effective by dissociating aid to Israel from Zionism as a special movement, to which much of the Jewish community is antagonistic. And (2) “a vigorous Zionist movement is equally essential from the point of view of Jewish life in the diaspora, its health and vitality, its spiritual bond with Israel and the bracing sense of world-wide Jewish unity.” Here again there is nothing distinctively Zionist.

The same is true with all other proposals heard for what Zionism can do today: community work, cultural work, etc. They are simply irrelevant to the basic problem. An organization like the ZOA might continue to exist in some such way for some length of time but not meaningfully as a Zionist organization.

“The time has come,” writes Neumann, “for the World Jewish Congress to be merged with the Zionist movement, which can take over its functions as an important branch of its activity.” It would seem to be more logical the other way around, to dissolve the Zionist movement into the broader organization, on the basis of Neumann’s perspective!

But Neumann is aware there is another answer, which was indeed the answer which was shoved before the noses of the American Zionist delegation at the Jerusalem congress. That is: that the Zionist movement today can only be a movement, primarily and overwhelmingly, to bring all the Jewish people back to Zion, which is now incarnated in Israel – a halutz (pioneering emigration) movement.

This, of course, has always been viewed as one task of the Zionist movement, but only as one task, and especially in the U.S., a minor one. American Zionism has been primarily “philanthropic Zionism.” Its day is over; such philanthropy could be distinctively Zionist yesterday; today it is not.

During the congress sessions, the Jerusalem Post took a bitter jibe at this type by quoting the definition of a “Zionist” as “a rich Jew who gives money to another Jew to help a poorer one go to Palestine.” Reflecting the Israeli point of view, it is quoted bitterly and contemptuously. Now the Americans are wondering whether they can even be philanthropic-Zionists.

This soul-searching has been going on since 1948 but it was raised to new intensity and sharpness by Ben-Gurion’s visit to these shores – on that occasion (at long last before catching the boat) when he finally appeared before a gathering of Zionists. He laid the meaning of Zionism before them, punctuated with table-banging. A Zionist, he told them, is a Jew who identifies himself fully with Israel by giving up all his allegiance and loyalties to the country of his birth or domicile and settles in Israel with his wife and children; no one can describe himself as a Zionist so long as he and his family remain living outside Israel!

If the American Zionists thought that this was a personal crotchet of his, they found at Jerusalem that the overwhelming majority of the congress agreed with Ben-Gurion, across all party lines. For convenience we shall refer to the “Israeli” point of view versus that of the Americans, but it was not limited to the Israelis. It was the Americans who were out of step and virtually isolated there on this question.

It has not been sensibly answered by the American Zionists, unless feeble squirming can be called an answer. They know they want to be Zionists and they just know that emigration to Israel is unthinkable for them – that’s for the poor Jew who needs a refuge – and they find it hard to adjust themselves to the notion that there is a contradiction. But on the other hand, they also can see that their own view is no longer the basis for a movement.

In a very interesting article in the Student Zionist for February, the president of the student Zionist organization explains how this group groped its way through the question, spurred to quicker decision by the fact that, on the campus above all, lack of a clear viewpoint meant immediate disintegration. The viewpoint they came out with was that the organization could continue to exist only if its reason for being was to orient youth toward emigration.

While this is a basis for a movement, he rightly explains, it means a much smaller movement than before. But it is something.

But this decision cannot simply be made merely for lack of any alternative reason for existence. The whole situation brings the Zionist up before the question: Has this in fact, whether we recognized it or not, been the real meaning of Zionism all along, the rest being auxiliary or peripheral? If this is what is left of the Zionist ideology, what was that ideology?

What is left of the Zionist ideology is indeed its heart and soul. What stares the American Zionist in the face, clearly for the first time, is indeed that which has always been the essential basis of the Zionist ideology, now no longer overlaid by rationalizations. From the Marxist viewpoint, it is no new discovery. For many Zionists, it is. It took the creation of the state itself to confront them with it. Their crisis consists only in the fact that they refuse to look it in the eye.

Ben-Gurion is reported to have said in New York: “I deny that there is a crisis in Zionism. There is a crisis – in some Zionists.” In a sense, he was right.

That which is left of the Zionist ideology, and which has always been its essence, is summed up in the Zionist slogan “The Ingathering of the Exiles.” The Americans heard this phrase more often in two weeks in Jerusalem than they had in the U.S. in years.

Earlier this year an American Zionist commission headed by Israel Goldstein got up a new draft Jerusalem Program. Its formulation of the task of Zionism was “to further the speedy ingathering into the state of Israel of all Jews who wish to go and live there ...” (Congress Weekly, May 28) But they did not even try hard to get away with this sidestepping formula at the world congress. The slogan of the Ingathering of the Exiles rent the air at Jerusalem.

What “exiles”? Who are the exiles? World Jewry – the “Jewish nation.” The tribes (Zionist term) were dispersed but are now to be rescued from the diaspora. The tribes have been in Galuth and are now to be brought “home” from their exile. This is the mission, the law, the constitution, the reason for existence for Israel, as Ben-Gurion said. Without this, Israel has no Zionist meaning.

Does that mean we all have to go to Israel if we are to be good Zionists? The American delegates were given a minimum program on this. Not that they were totally absolved from personal “self-fulfillment.” Golda Myerson, in her rebuttal to Rabbi Silver, declared that “if American Zionist leaders had come to Israel and settled there after the state was established, it would have been an ‘inspiring example’ of immigration for American Jewish youth.” (JTA, Aug. 20)

At a press conference before the congress opened, Silver was asked whether he planned to settle in Israel; he countered with “Do you need another rabbi?” The smart retort was fittingly answered at the congress by an Israeli General-Zionist leader (anti-religious) who suggested to him that he come and establish a reform-synagogue movement in the country.

But the Israelis did not insist on the condition of personal “fulfillment.” Their minimum demands were: (1) Send your children; (2) make emigration the main task of your organization; (3) compulsory Hebrew education in the Zionist movement.

On the last, Ben-Gurion had declared: “No one can be a Zionist who does not feel the duty of educating his children in the Hebrew language ... Otherwise, neither they nor their children have any connection with the Jewish nation. A Zionist can either live in the state of Israel or he must at least live in that spiritual state of the Jewish nation which is the Hebrew language.” Another Mapai leader urged the Zionist leaders overseas to Hebraize their names.

The Americans protested in effect: But these demands are impossible, absurd, unreasonable. You obviously don’t know us Americans. Our American Zionists don’t want to go to Israel. There’s no use you or us agitating them. They just won’t.

Your job is to change that, to “Zionize” them, they were told.

The Americans protested but all they had to say, stripped of bluster, was: The Americans won’t go because they’re comfortable, secure and better off where they are ... which is perfectly good reason, for a non-Zionist.

It is difficult to say which side was and is more outraged by the other’s viewpoint. But it is not difficult to say which has a right to be outraged from the Zionist viewpoint. The Americans were saying in effect: Zionism is all right in theory – for some poor Jews in other places – but not when it’s a matter of exchanging the fleshpots of America for the hard realities of Israel. Their first and last argument remained something like the Talmudic one which Neumann had quoted in his pre-congress article, from Mordecai Kaplan:

Nothing can be more fantastic than to assume that a considerable proportion of American Jews can be persuaded to migrate to Israel. The Talmud enunciates the principle that an ordinance by which the majority cannot possibly abide should never be issued. Such an ordinance creates an unnecessary sense of guilt. It is destructive of peace of mind and soul. To find fault with Jews who are satisfied to make their permanent home outside Israel is to violate that sound Talmudic principle.

It would seem from the reports that among the American delegates only the president of Hadassah had the guts to blurt out in so many words what they believed: “We cannot accept the concept that we are in exile.” But the Americans accepted the “exile” concept for the others! “Exile” apparently is only where they won’t let you live.

Most of the Americans were discreet enough not to be as plain-spoken. They gave and give lip service to halutziuth and aliyah (emigration to Israel) but, resting on “realistic” grounds, mostly claimed to be helpless before the reluctance of their ranks. It was only thin concealment for the fact that they agreed with the ranks.

The Israelis blasted away. Dobkin of the Jewish Agency pointed out that the neglect of the halutz movement in the U.S. was illustrated by the fact that a single youth center in Brooklyn had a larger budget than the entire halutz movement in the country. It was reported that only 7,000 immigrants had come from the U.S., Britain, South Africa, and Australia since the creation of the state (and we do not know whether this figure includes those who later left).

“Zionist parents [in America] tremble at the thought that their children might become infected with the idea of emigration to Israel,” charged Dobkin.

The Americans were informed, by Nahum Goldmann, that the Zionist Ingathering of the Exiles also applies to Jews in “free countries where they are not forced to depart for a safer area ... So long as a majority of the Jewish people remains outside Israel, Zionism’s aims have not been attained ... The function of Zionism ... is to ‘Zionize’ both the Jews in Israel and those outside the Jewish state.”

We have to quote further from Goldmann, perhaps the outstanding non-Israeli in the world movement and furthermore considered a “moderate,” for both of which reasons he was elected president at the congress. In the polemic against the Americans, the overwhelming majority at the congress made the meaning of Zionism crystal-clear.

“Take away the Galuth,” cried Goldmann, “and you take away Zionism.” He is referring to the concept that Jewry as a “nation” is in exile.

This was re-emphasized and hammered home in more than one speech. Goldmann again: “Galuth does not cease being Galuth because Jews are happy and well-treated there. Galuth is not measured by good or bad treatment.”

And he added: “Galuth is a mystical concept. If you deny that America is Galuth, you might as well deny the need for Israel.” (My emphasis.)

Of course, this is the concept which is also behind Ben-Gurion’s definitions of Israel as a state founded on the “Law of the Return.” In his August 8 speech he had said: “a Zionist must himself come to Israel as an immigrant,” as he had said in New York. And he made clear that this was no new interpretation: “From the beginning Zionism meant for us only halutzic Zionism” – that is, Zionism as a movement to return the Jewish “nation” to Palestine.

The concept is as “mystical” for the majority as for Goldmann. Goldmann’s use of that word was not an aberration. Even Neumann – even Neumann, spokesman for the anti-Galuth Americans – had to put it that way (in the article above-quoted) in explaining why the philanthropic-Zionist Americans choose to direct their philanthropy toward Zionism:

They [in America] were in dispersion but had little sense of exile ... They wish to further the cause not only as a duty toward Jews less fortunately placed, but out of a deep, if mystic, sense of obligation toward the Jewish past, of identity with Jewish destiny and the vision of a nobler future.

The view that the Jews of the world, and not merely the Jewish yishuv in Palestine, constitute a nation in the Zionist usage is a view which can only have a mystical basis.

What in non-mystical terms is the “Jewishness” which they have in common and which is discussed at such great length? Religion? Not for the non-religious, secular Zionists, though we shall see what is happening on this. Common persecution? Yes; but if this is to be the basis for the concept of nationhood, it is an inverted acceptance of the anti-Semitic view of the Jewish people as a “peculiar people” with whom the non-Jew cannot live. The fact is that the Jews in their dispersion, have become even more varied than most imagine.

This is rather spectacularly illustrated by a passage in Ben-Gurion’s August 8 speech, thrown in apparently not so much for its relevance in the context but because even he had just been “shocked”:

I was shocked to the core by the seriousness of the problems connected with the absorption and fusion of the Dispersions, when I saw the abyss lying between two types of Iraqi Jews that cannot live together, the townsmen and the hillsmen. Now we have brought them together at Halsa and at Bet Lydd and they cannot live together even though they speak one language and come from one country.

I met a Yemenite, a Tunisian and a Moroccan. They demanded that separate synagogues be built for them. I learnt that where a Moroccan prays, a Tunisian will not perform his prayers, even though both pray according to Sephardic rites, although their cantillation differs. The Yemenite told me that Yemenites need two types of synagogues, one for the natives of San’a and another for those originating outside San’a.

It is rather extreme, but still these are Jews who speak the same language, come from the same country, and practice the same Sephardic rites. Then there are the others ...

Persecution, distress and need are driving the many and disparate Jews of the Dispersions to Israel, and the Israeli leaders have cause to be appalled at the task of welding them into one nation; this was a task also for the United States with respect to the many-nationed immigrants who were driven to its shores by persecution, distress and need, in spite of the fact that the pre-history of the United States (in its colonial development) had already provided a base. But if it is a difficult task, it is because it is not a “one-nation entity” (Ben-Gurion’s term) which is “returning home.” The great majority are fleeing their homes.

The “mystical” concept which is at the heart and soul of Zionism (in spite of the American Zionists’ disclaimer) is that of tribal blood-solidarity. For the Zionist (in greater or lesser measure depending on the degree to which the individual’s Zionist ideology is diluted by concessions to other ideologies), it is inevitable that this mystic sense of tribal blood-solidarity should be their overriding motivation.

To be sure, it collides with class solidarity, both for the bourgeoisie and the working class; and for the latter, both in Israel and in the diaspora Zionist movement, it is an alien and corruptive element in any attempt to build a consistent, genuine socialist movement. It collides with the solidarity of internationalism; and most specifically, it collides with the need for a policy of equality, toleration and peace with the Arab peoples. Scientifically, ideologically, philosophically if you wish, it does not have much to recommend it above the “Aryan” theories of the Nazi theoreticians.

The Zionists set as one of their tasks to “achieve the unity of the Jewish people.” Aside from anti-Semitism, which is doing this job more effectively than they, the outstanding common element of the various Dispersions is religion. Religious Zionism has always been one kind of Zionism among many, but as Zionist ideology boils down more and more clearly to its mystic tribal core, it is the religionists who feel their ideological strength.

More boldly than ever could the Religious Zionist (Mizrachi) caucus at the Jerusalem congress adopt its manifesto, calling for greater efforts to preserve religious values and traditions “which have always been and must continue to be in the future the main guarantee for the unity of the Jewish people throughout the world.”

But that’s the Mizrachi, who have always said so. It is interesting to read the following from a leading theoretician of the traditionally secular American Labor Zionist movement, in a pre-congress article entitled Notes for a Labor Zionist Program:

A religious designation to denote the totality of Jewish life in this country imposes the duty upon the Jewish community to adhere to certain mores and observe certain rituals which have their origin in the Jewish religion.

It is, of course, not the “religious designation” which “imposes” this duty. It is the Zionist’s search for the elements of nationhood. He continues:

The same duty should devolve upon the individual Jew. The voluntary acceptance of a minimum of observances must be his spiritual membership dues to the Jewish community, even as his participation in its budgetary requirements must be his financial dues. This is necessary both to preserve Jewish identity in this country and to integrate the American Jewish community into the unity of Jewish peoplehood. We are approaching a time when the Jews of the world will no longer have a common living language. The cultural barriers between the Jews of one land and those of another are getting higher every day. In proportion as a Jewish community becomes integrated into the affairs of its native land and shares with the rest of the population fundamental values which do not belong to the Jewish legacy, the factors contributing to the fragmentation of the Jewish people will be strengthened. Only the preservation of meaningful Jewish traditions, the observance of Jewish holidays and folkways, and the fostering of modern Jewish culture and education, centered about and supplementing the creative efforts of Israel, will prevent Jewish disintegration. (C. Bezalel Sherman, Jewish Frontier, June)

By “disintegration” he means assimilation.

Sherman, no doubt, wishes the “observances” without the theism, making of them not a ritual for the unseen God but a ritual for the hard-to-see nationhood. But in dealing with masses, as the Israeli leaders have to do, it is easier to eliminate the subtle distinctions. In Israel itself religion and religious observances play the role of a national cement. We have no doubt that Ben-Gurion and the secular Israelis have little personal sympathy for many of the excesses that characterize Israeli society in foisting religious practices upon all the people; but if there is less separation between church and state in Israel than almost anywhere else in the modern world, that scandalous fact is not solely due to the pressure or influence of the Mizrachi or the rabbis. It performs a nationalist function.

At the Jerusalem congress, there was an attempt (most particularly, apparently, by the Mapam delegates) to put the Ingathering of the Exiles on another and seemingly less mystical basis. Mapam delegates repeatedly, while supporting the majority thesis in favor of the liquidation of the diaspora into Israel as the goal, direly “warned U.S. Jews that they might meet the fate of some European Jewish communities, which ignored the call to Zion and perished.” The state of mind of the American Jews was compared with that of the German Jews before the rise of Hitler. Come to Israel, they argued in effect, because anti-Semitism will get you in the long run anyway.

Only a Lessing Rosenwald or his co-thinkers might deny the gross reality of this danger; it is surely true that anti-Semitism in the West may yet rise to the heights of Hitlerism. But this horrible prospect is only a part of another, with which it goes hand in hand: the deterioration, totalitarianization and brutalization of capitalist society in decay on the one hand and of Stalinism on the other. But the Mapam delegates were not making their point in order to urge a fight against anti-Semitism; their argument was: Flee from anti-Semitism, flee now before it is too late!

It is the theory of the inevitability of anti-Semitism. This theory can have only one of two bases: (1) The working-class, socialist and democratic forces in the world are inevitably doomed to defeat; or (2) anti-Semitism is inevitable as long as Jews live with non-Jews, for reasons which cannot be less mystical and “tribal” than those we have already discussed. And as far as Mapam is concerned – it considers itself to be “left socialist” (actually Stalinoid) – it hardly subscribes to the first thesis. If any do, one may ask how much of a haven can be provided in such a world by Israel, which is surrounded by hostility even today.

Actually, the motivation of this argument is, again, an inversion of anti-Semitism itself: there is “something about the Jews” as such which makes persecution inevitable.

At the Jerusalem congress, on this question of the Ingathering and emigration to Israel, a compromise had to be reached, as everyone knew in advance. Ideologically, it was a rotten compromise, as it had to be. The Americans accepted the formula “Ingathering of the Exiles” as the task of Zionism – with their own rationalizations in mind. But the draft formulation had read: “the redemption of the Jewish people through the Ingathering of the Exiles.” They boggled at tying up the Ingathering with redemption, and the latter was struck out, in order to achieve a unanimous vote (the chauvinist Herut delegates abstaining). Furthermore, the document was represented as the “tasks” of Zionism, not the “aims” of Zionism, the latter being held over for the future.

We must mention, in addition, another aspect of the declaration adopted which did not figure in the debates (as far as the reports have shown, pending the verbatim minutes). But it appears in the text. Set as the task of Zionism is “the Ingathering of the Exiles in Eretz Israel.”

Eretz Israel” is not the state of Israel. It is the whole of Palestine, that is, all of the land which the Zionists from the very beginning set as their homeland goal. It can be achieved only by expansion beyond the borders of the present state in conflict with the Arab Near East.

The use of this term in the document is not simply a nostalgic nod in the direction of a sentimental aspiration. discussion of the use of this term as against simply Israel may or may not have taken place at the congress (though it certainly did in the commission which drafted the declaration). The difference is highlighted by what happened with the draft for a new program which was prepared earlier this year by an American commission and which we have already mentioned. This draft read “ingathering into the state of Israel.” Writing in the Congress Weekly for May 28, Joseph Schechtman, a leader of the Revisionists who participated in the commission’s deliberations, reports that he proposed to amend it to read “land of Israel” or Eretz Israel. He leaves no possibility for misunderstanding:

The alert reader will easily discern the fine point of difference of emphasis in the term ‘State of Israel’ – a recently established, internationally recognized sovereign territorial entity – and ‘Land of Israel’ – the everlasting patrimony of the Jewish people, the unique object of Zionism ... A Jerusalem Program cannot disregard the wider concept of ‘Eretz Israel’ in its Zionist program. In this respect, ‘Eretz Israel’ is different from the State, which is bound to be the bearer of the legalistic, static interpretations of the term ‘Land of Israel.’ The Zionist movement can and must remain the bearer of the dynamic interpretation.

It was “Eretz Israel” that appeared in the congress document. It was the Revisionists and their allies who particularly insisted on it. Quite possibly, the other might have preferred not to make explicit the expansionist aims which cannot be divorced from the Zionist ideology; if its inclusion was a concession to the Revisionists or under their pressure, as may possibly though not certainly be true, that was not because of any opposition to the concept. The mystic tribalism of Zionism cannot help being implicitly expansionist.

Last updated on 27 August 2020