Part 2: Zionism – a Jewish invention or an imperialist construct?
Genesis of Zionism
The Zionist state of Israel, and its imperialist backers, make three assertions: first, that Jews invented Zionism; second, that Jews are a Semitic people; and third, that the state of Israel ought to be, and will remain, an exclusively Jewish state. This article deals with the first of these assertions alone, leaving the other two for subsequent treatment.
Far from being a “national liberation movement” for the “re-establishment of the Jewish people” in “their homeland and the assumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel”, as is claimed by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zionism is much more the product of European geopolitics than the legitimate child of European Jewry.
Far from being an answer to Jewish “yearning” for Zion (Jerusalem) and a response to anti-Semitism, the Zionist construct dates back to the Reformation and its struggle against the authority of the Catholic Church. Rather than the Jews, it is the British who, more than anyone else, pursued the policy of Zionisation of the Jews and Judaisation of Zionism.
According to the Zionist historiography, the founding fathers of Zionism include the German Moses Hess, the Russian Leon Pinsker, and the Hungarian Theodor Herzl.
The principal claim of the Zionists is that Jews alone invented Zionism.
Bernard Lewis, lionised as the doyen of Middle Eastern Studies, locates Vienna as the birthplace of Zionism, Theodor Herzl as its founding father, and the publication of Herzl’s book The Jewish State as the beginning of the history of Zionism (see Lewis, Semites and anti-Semites: an inquiry into conflict and prejudice, WW Norton & Company, New York, 1986, pp.68-69).
Nahum Goldman, founder President of the World Jewish Congress, made the same claim in his 1978 article: ‘Zionist ideology and the reality of Israel’, Foreign Affairs (1) 70-82.
And this claim continues to be repeated by the Zionists and their imperialist backers and has acquired the force of a public prejudice. Anyone who challenges this narrative faces the charge of anti-Semitism from the camp of Zionism and its powerful supporters. The fear of being characterised as anti-Semitic accounts for a great number of people, who know better, maintaining silence on this question. Yet somehow the truth must be asserted. And the truth is that, beginning with the Reformation various schemes of colonial ‘Restoration’ – Zionist colonisation of Palestine – were the brainchild of, and developed by, non-Jewish Europeans (religious as well as atheist) long before the time of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). Herzl’s appearance on the scene merely marked the beginning – a small beginning at that – of the Zionisation of the Jews themselves and their participation in what initially and essentially was a non-Jewish idea of Zionism.
The Reformation gave the call for the Bible to replace the Pope as the ultimate spiritual authority. Prior to that the notion of ‘Jewish return’ to Palestine and the concept of a ‘Jewish nation’ was alien to conventional Catholic thought. The Reformation invented these ideas and formulated a theological construct which included Jewish conversion to Christianity as a prelude the Second Coming of Christ. Stressing the Palestinian origins of Christianity, partly as a means of knocking down the pretensions of Roman Catholicism, the Protestants laid greater emphasis on the Old Testament, Biblical Israelites, and Jerusalem, in contradistinction to the New Testament, the Pope and Rome (see L J Epstein, Zion’s call: Christian contribution to the origins and development of Israel, University Press of America, New York, 1984).
At the same time, principal European powers were in competition for the use of Jews and Judaism to provide a religious cover for schemes of colonising the Holy Land, which lay at the heart of the rotting Ottoman Empire and the emerging Arab world.
The founder of the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546), was the first to show political and theological interest in the Jews. In his pamphlet ‘That Jesus Christ was born a Jew’ (1523), he characterised the Jews as the true-blood heirs of the Biblical Israelites and the blood relatives of Jesus. In another act of defiance towards the Pope and the Catholic Church, he caused the removal from the Old Testament of the books (Protestant Apocrypha) which were not accepted by the Jewish canon as part of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Protestant Judeophile tendencies, begun with Luther in Germany in 1523, continued to take root in Anglican England; these tendencies registered a new peak with the emergence of the Puritans. Cromwell’s Republic in 1655 readmitted Jews to England (Edward I had expelled them in 1290 after cancelling all debts owed to them). In inviting the Jews, Cromwell was mainly motivated by his determination to move the Amsterdam Jewish merchants to London to bolster England in her trade war with Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands, whose Jewish community was famed for its wealth, commercial know-how, and business contacts.
French revolution and Napoleon
With the French Revolution of 1789 and the subsequent rise of Napoleon, his invasion of Egypt and Palestine, and his Jewish Proclamation, English and French Zionism entered a new phase of fierce competition over European Jewry. Before Napoleon’s rise, the French Revolution had already emancipated French Jews, with the French National Assembly decreeing on 24 December 1789 that non-Catholics were as eligible for all civil and military positions as were Catholic citizens. This decree forced many European Conservative governments to admit Jews to civil rights – rights which were taken back again after the fall of Napoleon.
Napoleon was determined to use the Jews throughout Europe as a fifth column. During his invasion of Egypt and Palestine (1798-99), and anticipating the capture of Jerusalem (something that did not happen), Napoleon prepared a Proclamation promising the Holy Land to the Jews, whom he characterised as “the rightful heirs of Palestine”. Anglo-French competition for the allegiance of European Jews was clearly at the bottom of this Proclamation. In 1806, Napoleon convoked an Assembly of 111 Jewish notables from the countries of the French Empire and Italy. He then invited all Jewish communities to dispatch representatives to the Great Sanhedron which eventually met in 1807. The clear purpose for gathering these notables was to use European Jews in his war with Russia and his economic battle with Britain. While welcoming his emancipation, the Jews rejected Napoleon’s Zionism. The Great Sanhedrin declared that the Jews did not form a nation and the Jews bluntly told Napoleon: “Paris is our Jerusalem”.
All the same, Napoleon’s endeavours in regard to the Jews were to become blueprints and forerunners of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (1809), Leo Pinsker’s ideas of a Jewish National Congress, and Herzl’s schemes for a Society of Jews.
From the time of the Reformation to the rise to power of Napoleon III in France, there were no Jewish leaders in the Zionist movement – all British and French attempts to recruit them were complete failures. The non-Jewish origin of Zionism is further clear from the stark fact that the ideas of the Restoration developed first in Britain (which had hardly any Jewish population) rather than in Germany, Poland or Russia (home to most of European Jewry). Even 100 years after Cromwell, there were only 12,000 Jews in Britain, and it took another 100 years for their number to reach 25,000, whereas the census of 1897 revealed 5,189,401 Jews in the Russian Empire.
In her book Bible and sword, Barbara Tuchman presents a coherent analysis of the interplay between imperial and religious considerations within British Zionism from the time of Cromwell and the Puritans through that of Palmerston and Lord Shaftesbury to that of Balfour and Weizmann. Palmerston worked closely with Lord Shaftesbury (President of the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews) on British Zionist plans at a time when there was no Jewish movement prepared to ‘return’ to Palestine. There being no Protestants in Palestine or any other corner of the Ottoman Empire, Britain was hard at work to bring Ottoman Jews under its ‘protection’ to counter similar Russian and French attempts to place Orthodox and Catholic Ottomans under their respective ‘protections’. In March 1838, Britain appointed a vice-consul to Jerusalem, with jurisdiction over “the whole country within the ancient limits of the Holy Land”. This was the first step of a meticulously worked-out plan by Britain to use Jews for imperial domination.
British Zionism faced a serious problem, namely, the voice of anti-Zionist Jews, represented in the Cabinet by Edwin Montague, the Secretary of State for India, and expressed in the press by Alexander and Montefiore, respectively the President and Secretary of the Jewish Board of Deputies. British Jewish leaders persisted in considering “Zionism as a mad delusion of an army of beggars and cranks that could only serve to undermine their hard-won rights of citizenship in western countries” (Tuchman, p.333).
“With the difficulty of politically persuading the Jews, the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews began to Judaize Zionism and Zionize the Jews, with more focus on Russian and Eastern European Jews” (Mohameden Ould-Mey, ‘The non-Jewish origins of Zionism’, International Journal of Humanities, Vol 1, 2003, p.603).
The Society aimed to teach “the Jews their own holy books: it had an eye on the world’s entire Jewry, estimated to be around 6 million in 1871.”
Following earlier failures to involve the Jews in the Zionist project, Britain enlisted the services of Lt-Colonel George Gawler (1796-1869), a committed Christian, who had served as Governor of South Australia from 1838 to 1841. During his term, he had settled British convicts to the tune of 180 a month. With his experience in colonial settlement, he was expected to facilitate the establishment of Jewish colonies in Palestine. He visited the Holy Land in 1849, retired from the army in 1850, and founded the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine, which evolved into the Palestine Fund in 1852. Gawler was the first Zionist to articulate the Zionist myth that “Palestine is a land without a people” waiting for “the Jews, a people without a land” (see Mohameden Ould-Mey, op.cit., p.605). Great Britain, he said, ought to gain “protection for, and give protection to, all Israelites who desire to establish themselves in depopulated Palestine” and should “prepare the Jews for their future station by political elevation in England” (G Gawler, Organised special constables, T&W Boone, London, 1848, p.25).
“With the advent of steam navigation, dependent on frequent ports of call for recoaling and the completion of the Suez Canal, Zionism and the interests of world commerce began to link the establishment of depots and settlements along the route to India and China with the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine” (Ould Mey, p.606).
Suez Canal and the security of India
This trend was strengthened still further with the purchase of shares by Britain in the Suez Canal, thanks to deft footwork by the British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli. British Zionist arguments and Gawler’s idea regarding the “political elevation” of the Jews received a boost with the publication by George Eliot of the novel Daniel Deronda (1876) which presented the Jews as good and moral nationalist heroes, in contrast with their previous image as “Christ killers, apostates, moneylenders, exotic foreigners and poor immigrants” (Epstein, op.cit., p.47). Just like Luther’s pamphlet ‘That Jesus Christ was born a Jew’, Daniel Deronda stressed that the Jews were descendants of the Biblical Israelites and that “a whole Christian is three-fourths a Jew”. Some even went as far as to claim that Deronda created a Jewish nationalist spirit for Zionism and a model of inspiration for Herzl (Nahum Sokolow, History of Zionism 1600-1918 Vol. 1, Longmans Green & Co., London, 1919, pp.xxvi-xxvii).
Non-Jewish Zionism came into existence in England long before the appearance of Jewish political Zionism. Some of the most ardent supporters of Zionism were Englishmen who visualised the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine as an instrument for serving British geopolitical interests.
Self interest was combined, at least at the beginning, with religious obscurantism. In this scheme, although religious dogma and commercial profit nestled cheek by jowl, commercial profit took precedence. For instance, in allowing the readmission of Jews, who had been expelled by Edward I, Cromwell was primarily motivated by self-interest. The English Civil War had adversely affected England’s position as a trading and maritime power. The British business and commercial class – almost exclusively Puritan and thus doctrinally very close to Judaism – was especially jealous of the Dutch who had grabbed the opportunity offered by the English Civil War to gain control over the Near and Far Eastern trade routes. And, the Dutch Jews were particularly active in the expansion of Dutch trade during the period of the Civil War. Cromwell agreed to the readmission of the Jews precisely at the time he was busy in a series of trade wars with Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands – a country which had a considerable Jewish community known for its wealth, commercial acumen and international contacts, not to mention considerable amounts of capital that Jews would bring with them.
With British overseas expansion during the following century, the question of Jewish restoration in Palestine became increasingly entwined with imperial considerations, with the religious dogma serving as a screen for British imperial interests in Palestine.
Shaftesbury and Palmerston
At the start of the nineteenth century, Britain underwent an evangelical revival. The British ruling class, shaken to its foundations by the French revolution which it regarded as the result of rationalism, returned to the Bible and its prophecies and acceptance of the Bible as God’s word. The chief propagator of this dogma was Lord Shaftesbury who regarded himself as the “Evangelical of the Evangelicals”. He was the one who had the vision of a Jewish state in Palestine and occupies a pivotal place in the tradition of non-Jewish Zionism. Although based on alleged Biblical prophecies and their fulfilment, Shaftesbury preached his dogma at a politically convenient time. Jewish settlement in Palestine had become a desirable goal for Britain. The strategic location of Palestine on the route to India via Syria invested it with the importance that it deservedly received at British hands. Sensing the threat to the security of India from France and Russia, the British ruling class pursued the policy of settling Palestine with people who would look favourably upon British imperial interests. Thus began “the curious union of empire policy with a sort of paternalistic Christian Zionism which is evident in British policy in succeeding generations” (William R. Polk, David M. Stamler, and Edmund Asfour, Backdrop to tragedy, Beacon, Boston, 1957).
Lord Palmerston (British Foreign Secretary from 1830 to 1841 and again from 1846 to 1851, and Prime Minister from 1855 to 1865) was an enthusiastic advocate of Shaftesbury’s ideas, but purely in terms of British imperial interests. The Eastern question being his principal concern, Palmerston was partial to Shaftesbury’s idea to use Jews as a British lever within the Ottoman Empire.
With the advent of steam navigation in 1840, the Near East became very important along the route to India as steam ships required frequent reloading and the British ships used the Mediterranean-Red Sea route with transhipment at Suez rather than the long Cape route. In view of all this, British involvement in the Jewish question was no longer a matter of political option but of political necessity. This is how Colonel George Gawler, the former governor of South Australia, justified the proposal for a Jewish state in Palestine:
“Divine providence has placed Syria and Egypt in the very gap between England and the most important regions of her colonial and foreign trade, India, China … a foreign power … would soon endanger British trade … and it is now for England to set her hand to the renovation of Syria, through the only people whose energies will be extensively and permanently in the work – the real children of the soil, the sons of Israel” (Albert Hyamson, British projects for the restoration of Jews to Palestine, American Jewish Historical Society, Philadelphia, 1918, p.37).
Another prominent gentile Zionist was Charles Henry Churchill, a grandson of the Duke of Marlborough and an antecedent of Winston Churchill. It was he, a non-Jew, who called upon the Jews to assert themselves as a nation, four decades before Leo Pinkser, in his Auto-emancipation, announced to his Jewish co-religionists: “we must establish ourselves as a living nation”.
In 1875, Disraeli facilitated Britain’s purchase of the Khedive of Egypt’s shares in the Suez Canal Company, followed by Britain’s occupation of Egypt in 1882. Its proximity to Egypt gave Palestine added importance, both as a means of strengthening the British position in Egypt and as an overland link with the East. The new political realities brought forth a new generation of non-Jewish Zionists, who were empire builders, fully cognisant of the benefits to be derived from a British sphere of influence in the Middle East.
Pro-Zionist literature from non-Jewish Zionist writers managed to create a wave of public sympathy for a British-sponsored Jewish state in Palestine. As for Jews, it was only in the 1890s that Zionism began to appear as a very small minority movement among European Jews. Jewish Zionists actively lobbied among non-Jews. Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, and Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister (1902-05) and later Foreign Secretary (1916-1919), were typical of the new non-Jewish Zionist. Chamberlain’s chief concern was the British Empire. Neither Biblical prophecy nor humanitarianism was of any concern to him. Lloyd George, in whose Cabinet Balfour served as Foreign Secretary, was another prominent non-Jewish Zionist, whose part in the Balfour Declaration [2 November 1917] was far greater than that of Balfour. The Zionist Review, a semi-official organ of the Zionist movement, assigned to him “the foremost place inside the Cabinet among the architects of this great decision” (Dec. 1917, p. 214). After Lloyd George became prime minister in December 1916, Zionism had nothing to fear. Other Zionists, such as Mark Sykes, Leopold Amery, Lord Milner, Robert Cecil, Col. R Meinertzhagen, Harold Nicolson, General Smuts and C P Scott also held important positions from which to promote the Zionist cause.
First World War and the Balfour Declaration
As the First World War progressed, British and Zionist interests became increasingly complementary. The Jewish Zionists, Weizmann in particular, identified their own interests with those of Britain. For Britain, the acquisition of Palestine had become a non-negotiable strategic requirement. But this acquisition could not be had through open military conquest. The only choice was for Britain to align its war aims with the principle of self-determination. The Jewish Zionists came in very handy for executing such a plan. For the British, the Zionists were “the guardians in a continuity of religious and racial traditions” and a conservative force in world politics, and thus reliable. British non-Jewish Zionism found it convenient to make its entry into Palestine as a ‘trustee’ for its alleged Old Testament proprietors. Mark Sykes once wrote to Lord Robert Cecil in the following terms: “We should so order our policy that without in any way showing any desire to annex Palestine or to establish a protectorate over it, when the time comes to choose a mandatory power for its control, by consensus of opinion and desire of its inhabitants, we shall be the most likely candidates.” (Shane Leslie, Mark Sykes. His life and letters, Cassell, London, 1923).
With the Balfour Declaration providing the ideological basis, when the Peace Conference following the war, the defeat of Turkey and the disintegration of the Turkish Empire, turned to the question of Mandates, the granting of the Palestine to Britain was a mere formality and a recognition of a fait accompli.
While propagating Zionism, most of the non-Jewish Zionists entertained the same prejudices as their anti-Semitic contemporaries. Both Chamberlain and Balfour opposed the entry into Britain of east European Jews fleeing persecution – as indeed did their Jewish-Zionist protégés. Balfour introduced and pushed through parliament the Aliens Bill that restricted Jewish immigration from eastern Europe to Britain, for reasons of “undoubted evils that had fallen upon the country from an immigration that was largely Jewish” (House of Commons, July 10, 1905, Official Records). Earlier still, when Jews in England were fighting for their civil emancipation, Lord Shaftesbury spoke against the 1858 Emancipation Act. It can thus clearly be seen that Zionism and anti-Semitism are complementary and reinforce each other. The most glaring example of this cohabitation doubtless remains the Nazi-Zionist collaboration as outlined in a previous LALKAR article.
Official Zionist historiography disseminated by the state of Israel ignores the critical role played by Britain in the rise of Herzlian Zionism. In so doing, Zionist narrative has attempted to get everyone to focus on the state of Israel as a given and to present Herzlian Zionism as a national liberation movement of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews. This is clearly not the case.
The British Empire sponsored the political project of Zionism from the early 1800s, if no earlier.
Historic homeland of Jews
The Jewish question (Jews living among non-Jews) arose in Russia at the end of the 18th century consequent upon many geographic, historical and geopolitical factors. The area between the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea has been a meeting place for ancient and medieval Asian and European migrations. It has been the historic homeland for most of the world Jewry for over a thousand years since the centre of gravity of Jews moved from the medieval Khazar Empire to the modern Pale of Settlement following the Mongol invasion of Russia and eastern Europe. The concentration of world Jewry in this area, and successive partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, proved to be significant landmarks in the birth of the Jewish question in Russia and the rest of Europe.
Several medieval geographers and modern historians have studied the rise and fall of the Jewish Khazar Empire (following the mass conversion of Turkic Khazars to Judaism) in southern Russia between the 8th and 10th centuries. The Khazar power went into decline after the defeat of the Khazar army by Sviatoslav, Duke of Kiev, in 960. Whatever remained of the Khazar empire was put an end to by Genghis Khan’s invasion of Russia in 1218, which led to the dispersal of Khazar Jews between the Caspian and Baltic Seas – the actual historical homeland of contemporary Jews. As the Khazar Jews moved out of their shtetls in the Russian and central Asian steppes to the towns and cities of eastern Europe in the process they lost their cohesive identity as Khazar, retaining merely their religion and other traditions.
It must be this historical fact that led Arthur Koestler (a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew) to argue in his book The thirteenth tribe: the Khazar Empire and its heritage that Ashkenazic Jews are the descendants of the Khazars. Equally, it must have led Paul Wexler, Tel Aviv University professor, to write three books namely, The Ashkenazic Jews: a Slavo-Turkic people in search of a Jewish identity; The non-Jewish origins of the Sephardic Jews; and Two-tiered relexification in Yiddish: Jews, Sorbs, Khazars and the Kiev-Polessian dialect. In these he argues that the Ashkenzic Jews are predominantly of Slavo-Turkic stock rather than Palestinian Jewish emigrants, while Sephardic Jews are mainly of Berber and Arab descent.
Be that as it may, the Zionists consider such research as taboo – even anti-Semitic. In this context, the Zionists were instrumental in the establishment in 1980 of the International Association of Jewish Geneological Societies (AIJGS) to elevate Jewish genealogy among Jewish people and in the academic community, with the aim of containing the increasing global awareness of the non-Semitic origins of contemporary Jews and emerging evidence about their Khazar ancestry.
The Jewish question arose in Russia after many partitions of Poland (in 1772, 1793 and 1795) between the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires. Having destroyed Poland, the partition resulted in the transfer of the largest Jewish communities to Russian rule – the geographic areas of what came to be known later as the Jewish Pale of Settlement.
According to the 1857 Russian census, 95% of the 5,189,401 Jews of the Russian empire were concentrated in the 25 provinces of the Jewish Pale of Settlement and Russian Poland. Russia’s policy of Russification, which put restrictions on non-Russian languages and cultures, inflicted the worst suffering upon Muslim Tatars and Jewish Khazars. Many of the restrictions – residential and occupational – on the Jews were inspired by prejudice. As a result, leaving aside the wealthy, the highly skilled, and some long-term soldiers, the Russian Jews were confined to the Jewish Pale of Settlement. They were habitually accused of not taking to agriculture, exploiting the peasantry through the practice of moneylending, purveying liquor to drunken peasants, evading military service, and engaging in disaffection.
The Jewish question came to the forefront of Russian politics and geopolitics following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, for which Jews were blamed. The discriminatory nature of the May 1882 laws provided Britain with a kind of moral and political leverage to directly interfere in Russian affairs on behalf of Russian Jews through the organisation of a number of public meetings in London focusing on the Jewish question in Russia. Throughout the 1880s, the British maintained pressure on the Russians in relation to the Jewish question. In due course, having come into a position to take the debate on the Jewish question into Russia, they shifted the thrust of their diplomatic discourse from simply expressing their views on the May 1882 laws to a direct official representation for the annulment of those laws against the Jews, whom they started calling ‘Israelites’, in tune with an increasingly aggressive policy of Zionisation of the Jews and Judaisation of Zionism.
British Zionisation of Russian Jews and Judaisation of Zionism
The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the rumoured ‘Russian solution’ (one third of the Jews to be converted to Christianity, one third to emigrate, and one third to perish) to the ‘Jewish problem’, provided the British with a pretext and opportunity to establish closer organisational, missionary, and more significantly political contacts with eastern European and Russian Jewry so as to Zionise the latter’s aspirations and redirect their migratory movement away from the Americas to Palestine. (All the same, between 1870 and 1914 about two million east European Jews migrated westward to the Americas).
While the question of using Jews in the interests of the British Empire had been discussed by Lord Palmerston and Queen Victoria as early as 1839, a concrete proposal for a settler colonial movement aimed at making Palestine a British sponsored state for world Jewry only came about with Colonel Gawler’s plan. Gawler had experience in settling British convicts in Australia, and his plan called for the Zionisation of Judaism and Judaisation of Zionism. The person chosen by the British establishment to take this mission to the Jews of eastern Europe and Russia was Wilhelm Henry Hechler (1845-1931).
Following the 1881 events in Russia and the 1882 London public meetings in support of Russian Jews, Lord Temple and Lord Shaftesbury sent William Hechler to meet the leaders of eastern European and Russian Jewry in Odessa and propagate Zionism as the only solution to the carefully-engineered problem of ‘anti-Semitism’ as opposed to the more familiar one of ‘Judeophobia’ at the time. Hechler met Leo Pinsker and told him that he had forgotten to mention in his pamphlet, The auto-emancipation, “God’s promise to Abraham and his children”. This is how the British establishment began to inject its Zionism into an otherwise local and natural emancipation movement of eastern European Jewry in its own ancestral homeland.
The Hechler-Pinsler encounter was instrumental in the founding of the Society for the Promotion of the Love of Zion and the Lovers of Zion movement. Initially Pinsker’s auto-emancipation movement was a non-Zionist movement seeking a solution for the Jewish question in Russia through independence of the Jewish Pale of Settlement or mass migration to the Americas – not Palestine. He considered Judeophobia, rather than anti-Semitism, as the problem presented by the Jewish question (Pinsker concluded his pamphlet by emphasising that a Jewish settler state would require a propelling force for migration, a territory to be conquered, and the backing of imperial powers, notably the British to sponsor it).
Pinsker rejected Hechler’s Zionism, saying: “The goal of our present endeavours must not be the Holy Land, but a land of our own”.
Hechler’s visit to Odessa appears to have influenced many Jewish lenders in Russia and eastern Europe to rethink their auto-emancipation as well as their plans for emigration to north America. To carry on his unceasing attempt at impregnating Russian and eastern European Jews with ideas of Zionism, Hechler moved to Vienna, teaching at the University of Vienna and working in the British Embassy there in 1882. After meeting Hechler in Odessa, Pinsker began to entertain some sympathy for Zionism and became the president of the Lovers of Zion.
Hechler had close connections with Theodor Herzl from 1896, the year Herzl published Der Judenstaat, until the latter’s death in 1904. Having read Herzl’s book, Hechler was ecstatic and hurried to tell the British Ambassador Monson that “the fore-ordained movement is here!” Hechler took an active part in the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in August 1897. He cannot have failed to be disappointed when in 1903 the Sixth World Zionist Congress, under the leadership of Israel Zangwill, backed by Herzl, voted (295-178) against Palestine and in favour of Uganda as a homeland for the Jews. Hechler was one of the last to see Herzl as he was dying at the Sanatorium in Edlach in early July 1904.
Beyond tutoring Herzl on Zionism, Hechler, a British agent motivated by imperial and religious considerations, was indispensable to Herzl politically, for he introduced Herzl and Zionism to the German Emperor, the Russian Tsar, the Ottoman Sultan, the Pope and two Russian ministers (Plehve and Witte), and many other important people.
To secure their support, both Hechler and Herzl were offering the German Kaiser and the Russian tsar the prospect that Zionism would help solve the Jewish question by simultaneously weakening the Jewish-led revolutionary and democratic movements in Europe and Russia as well as the power of international Jewish capital. Herzl wrote thus with regard to the socio-economic position of the Jews in Europe:
“We have attained pre-eminence in finance, because medieval conditions drove us to it. The process is now being repeated. We are again being forced into finance, now it is the stock exchange, by being kept out of other branches of economic activity. Being on the stock exchange, we are consequently exposed afresh to contempt. At the same time we continue to produce an abundance of mediocre intellects who find no outlet, and this endangers our social position as much as does our increasing wealth. Educated Jews without means are now rapidly becoming Socialists. Hence we are certain to suffer very severely in the struggle between classes, because we stand in the most exposed position in the camps of both Socialists and capitalists” (Herzl, The Jewish State).
A mere two decades later, the ideas expressed by Herzl in the above paragraph appear to have been borrowed by the vile Nazis when they portrayed and stereotyped the Jews as being the dominant force among the ‘red’ communists and the ‘gold’ capitalists.
In addition to offering to his would-be sponsors the tantalising prospect of ridding them of the revolutionary menace and competition from Jewish capitalists, Herzl, with barely concealed racism and European chauvinism, stated that the Jewish state would “form a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism”.
Herzl was never a religious person and once said that religion “is a fantasy that holds people in its grip” (Yoram Hazoni, The Jewish states: the struggle for Israel’s soul, Basic Books, New York, 2000). He had no preference for a particular territory for the Jews, merely desiring Jewish ‘sovereignty’ over a portion of the globe, as strip of territory. As to the choice between Palestine and Argentina, Herzl wrote: “We shall take what is given to us”.
In the light of the foregoing, we cannot but agree with the following conclusion of Mohameden Ould Mey: “Jews did not invent Zionism. Rather Zionism invented the Jews, though not all Jews are Zionist and not all Zionists are Jews. During the Reformation and mercantilist era, Protestants were interested in Jews as ammunition against the Catholics and leaders of the interest-based rising capitalist sector. Martin Luther’s Jewish-friendly writings in 1523, Oliver Cromwell’s readmission of the Jews to England in 1655, and the quasi-Judaization of the Puritans are graphic examples. With the Industrial Revolution and the European Enlightenment, Napoleon boosted the emancipation of the Jews in an attempt to estrange them from their European and Ottoman rulers as part of his unsuccessful plans to destroy the power of England and Russia and dominate Europe. After Napoleon, the British articulated a complex set of imperialist and religious motives designed to make the Eastern Question fit the Jewish Question. Obviously all of this took place before the alleged founder of Zionism (Herzl) was born in 1860, as well as before anti-Semitism was encouraged as a propelling machine for Zionism. With the change of Zionism’s guardianship and custody from Britain to the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War, Zionism continues to be a geopolitical configuration (rather than a national reality), which facilitates western multilateral hegemony over the Arab world’s strategic location (straits and waterways), cultural heritage (antique and Biblical history), economic resources (oil reserves and business contracts), and possible unification schemes …” (Ibid. p.607).
The continuing imperialist obsession with disarming every Middle Eastern country while preserving Israel’s weapons of mass destruction is an illustration of such continuity.
From its inception, Zionism has been a geopolitical construct. Today it presents the ‘Nazi Holocaust’ against the Jews in Europe as the historical explanation and the moral justification for the ‘Zionist Holocaust’ against the Palestinians.
If Zionism were a genuine national liberation movement, as is claimed by the Zionists and their imperialist backers, it is pertinent to ask: why did it not seek to liberate the Jewish Pale of Settlement (home to most Jews) in Russia? Likewise the question arises as to why, when contemporary Zionism claims to be exclusively Jewish, are its origins traceable to non-Jewish debates and writings of late nineteenth century England? What claim can Zionism make to Palestine that the Palestinians can’t make with much greater force? In the name of what can Zionism justify the expulsion, dispossession, dispersal, and oppression of millions of Palestinians on the basis of ancient, medieval and modern atrocities inflicted in Europe by some Europeans against their Jewish populations? What are the prospects of Zionism in view of Israel’s rejection of the UN-backed Right of Return for the Palestinians while simultaneously justifying its own existence on the arbitrary law of ‘Return’?
As things stand, the Zionist state of Israel, through its occupation of territories it captured in the 1967 war, its continued colonisation and settlement building, has to all intents and purposes scuppered the 2-state solution. That being the case, it will either have to impose its rule over the Palestinians through a system of brutal apartheid or grant them rights as equal citizens in a bi-national state. Either way, it puts paid to the Zionist dream of an exclusively Jewish – not to say theocratic and racist – state. Of these two options, the Zionists are likely to choose the former. History provides sufficient proof that such a state of affairs cannot be maintained indefinitely. It must break down in the face of Palestinian resistance and the fatigue of never-ending war between the oppressors and the oppressed.