Straight Talk About Zionism: What Jewish Nationalism Means

By Mark Weber
April 14, 2009

(An audio recording of this article, narrated by the author, is posted here for listening or downloading)

It’s important to understand Zionism, not just because it’s an influential ideology and a powerful social-political movement, but also because there’s a lot of ignorance, confusion and deliberate misinformation about it.

If you look up the word “Zionism” in a standard American dictionary, what you’ll find is likely to be inaccurate, or least misleading. For example, a popular and supposedly authoritative American dictionary in my office defines Zionism as “A movement formerly for reestablishing, now for supporting, the Jewish national state of Israel.” / 1 This definition, which is typical of American reference works, is more than just misleading. It’s deceitful.

The founder of the modern Zionist movement was a Jewish writer named Theodor Herzl. In the 1890s he was living in Paris, where he was a journalist for a major newspaper in Vienna. He was deeply troubled by the widespread anti-Semitism, or anti-Jewish sentiment, in France at the time. He thought a lot about the pattern of tension, distrust and conflict between Jews and non-Jews that had persisted through the centuries, and he hit upon what he believed is a solution to this age-old problem.

Herzl laid out his views in a book, written in German, entitled The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat). Published in 1896, this work is the manifesto or basic document of the Zionist movement. A year and a half later, Herzl convened the first international Zionist conference. Fifty one years later, when the “State of Israel” was solemnly proclaimed at a meeting in Tel Aviv, above the speakers’ podium at the conference was, appropriately, a large portrait of Herzl.

In his book Herzl explained that regardless of where they live, or their citizenship, Jews constitute not merely a religious community, but a nationality, a people. He used the German word, Volk. Wherever large numbers of Jews live among non-Jews, he said, conflict is not only likely, it’s inevitable. He wrote: "The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in noticeable numbers. Where it does not exist, it is brought in by arriving Jews ... I believe I understand anti-Semitism, which is a very complex phenomenon. I consider this development as a Jew, without hate or fear." / 2

In his public and private writings, Herzl explained that anti-Semitism is not an aberration, but rather a natural response by non-Jews to alien Jewish behavior and attitudes. Anti-Jewish sentiment, he said, is not due to ignorance or bigotry, as so many have claimed. Instead, he concluded, the ancient and seemingly intractable conflict between Jews and non-Jews is entirely understandable, because Jews are a distinct and separate people, with interests that are different from, and which often conflict with, the interests of the people among whom they live.

A prime source of modern anti-Jewish sentiment, Herzl believed, was that the so-called “emancipation” of Jews in the 18th and 19th centuries from the confined life of the ghetto into modern urban society brought them into direct economic competition with non-Jews in the middle classes. Anti-Semitism, Herzl wrote, is “an understandable reaction to Jewish defects.” In his diary he wrote: “I find the anti-Semites are fully within their rights.” / 3

Herzl maintained that Jews must stop pretending -- both to themselves and to non-Jews -- that they are like everyone else, and instead must frankly acknowledge that they are a distinct and separate people, with distinct and separate goals and interests. The only workable long-term solution, he said, is for Jews to recognize reality and live, finally, as a “normal” people in a separate state of their own. In a memo to the Tsar of Russia, Herzl wrote that Zionism is the “final solution of the Jewish question.” / 4

Over the years many other Jewish leaders have affirmed Herzl’s outlook. Louis Brandeis, a US Supreme Court justice and a leading American Zionist, said: “Let us all recognize that we Jews are a distinctive nationality of which every Jew, whatever his country, his station or shade of belief, is necessarily a member.” / 5

Stephen S. Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress and of the World Jewish Congress, told a rally in New York in June 1938: "I am not an American citizen of the Jewish faith. I am a Jew ... Hitler was right in one thing. He calls the Jewish people a race, and we are a race." / 6

Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, wrote in his memoirs: “Whenever the quantity of Jews in any country reaches the saturation point, that country reacts against them ... [This] reaction ... cannot be looked upon as anti-Semitism in the ordinary or vulgar sense of that word; it is a universal social and economic concomitant of Jewish immigration, and we cannot shake it off.” / 7

In keeping with the Zionist worldview, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon told a meeting of American Jews in Jerusalem in July 2004 that all Jews around the world should relocate to Israel as soon as possible. And because anti-Semitism was especially widespread in France, he added, Jews in that country should immediately move to Israel. French officials quickly, and predictably, responded by rejecting Sharon’s remarks as “unacceptable.” / 8

But imagine if the leaders of France, the United States, and other countries were to respond to those remarks by Sharon, and similar ones by other Zionists, by expressing agreement. Imagine if an American president were to respond by saying: “You’re right, Mr. Sharon. We agree with you. We agree that Jews do not belong in the United States. In fact, we are ready to show our support for what you say by doing everything we can to promote and encourage all Jews to leave our country and move to Israel.”

That would be the logical and honest attitude of non-Jewish political leaders who say that they support Israel and Zionism. But the political leaders of the United States, France, Britain, and other such countries today are neither honest nor consistent.

During the 1930s, one European government that was honest and consistent in its attitude on this issue was the government of Third Reich Germany. Jewish Zionists and German National Socialists shared similar views about how best to handle what Herzl called “the Jewish question.” They agreed that Jews and Germans were distinctly different nationalities, and that Jews did not belong in Europe, but rather in the so-called "Jewish homeland” in Palestine.

On the basis of their shared views, Germans and Jews worked together for what each community believed was in its own best national interest. The Hitler government vigorously supported Zionism and Jewish emigration to Palestine from 1933 until 1940-41, when the Second World War prevented further extensive collaboration. / 9

(During the war years attitudes hardened, and policy shifted drastically. The German policy of collaboration with Zionists and support for Jewish emigration to Palestine gave way to a harsh “final solution” policy.)

During the 1930s, the central SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps, repeatedly proclaimed its support for Zionism. An article published in 1935, for example, told readers: / 10

“The recognition of Jewry as a racial community based on blood and not on religion leads the German government to guarantee without reservation the racial separateness of this community. The government finds itself in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry, the so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry around the world, and its rejection of all assimilationist notions. On this basis, Germany undertakes measures that will surely play a significant role in the future in the handling of the Jewish problem around the world.”

In late 1933, a leading German shipping line began direct passenger service from Hamburg to Haifa, Palestine, providing "strictly kosher food” on board.

In September 1935, the German government enacted the “Nuremberg Laws," which prohibited marriages and sexual relations between Jews and Germans and, in effect, proclaimed the country’s Jews an alien minority group. / 11 A few days after the Nuremberg Laws were enacted, the main German Zionist newspaper, the Jüdische Rundschau, editorially welcomed the new measures. It explained to readers: / 12

“Germany ... is meeting the demands of the World Zionist Congress when it declares the Jews now living in Germany to be a national minority. Once the Jews have been stamped a national minority it is again possible to establish normal relations between the German nation and Jewry. The new laws give the Jewish minority in Germany its own cultural life, its own national life. In future it will be able to shape its own schools, its own theater, and its own sports associations. In short, it can create its own future in all aspects of national life ...”

During the 1930s, Zionist groups, working together with Third Reich authorities, organized a network of some forty camps and agricultural centers throughout Germany where prospective settlers were trained for their new lives in Palestine.

The centerpiece of German-Zionist cooperation during the Hitler era was the Transfer Agreement, a pact that enabled tens of thousands of German Jews to migrate to Palestine with their wealth. The Agreement, also known as the Ha’avara -- Hebrew for "transfer" -- was concluded in August 1933 following talks between German officials and an official of the Jewish Agency, the Palestine center of the World Zionist Organization. / 13

Between 1933 and 1941, some 60,000 German Jews emigrated to Palestine through the Ha'avara and other German-Zionist arrangements, or about ten percent of Germany's 1933 Jewish population. Some Ha'avara emigrants transferred considerable personal wealth from Germany to Palestine. As Jewish historian Edwin Black has noted: "Many of these people, especially in the late 1930s, were allowed to transfer actual replicas of their homes and factories -- indeed rough replicas of their very existence." / 14

The Transfer Agreement was the most far-reaching example of cooperation between Hitler's Germany and international Zionism. Through this pact, Hitler's Third Reich did more than any other government during the 1930s to support the Zionist movement and Jewish development in Palestine.

The essence of Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, is that Jews everywhere -- regardless of where they live, regardless of their religious outlook, and regardless of their citizenship -- are members of the Jewish “people” or “nation,” to whom all Jews owe a primary loyalty and allegiance.

The overwhelming majority of Jews in the United States today identify with and support Israel, and are affiliated with Zionist groups and organizations. Every significant Jewish group or association in the United States, and every prominent Jewish American political or community leader supports Israel and Zionism, in most cases fervently so. With very few exceptions, even American Jews who are critical of some of Israel’s more embarrassing policies nonetheless express support for Israel and the nationalist ideology upon which the Zionist state is based.

A Zionist Jew, by definition, owes his primary loyalty to the Jewish community and to Israel. Zionism is not compatible with patriotism to any country or entity other than Israel and the world Jewish community. That’s why it’s difficult to accept as sincere or honest the pious assurances of Jewish leaders in the United States that American Jews are just as loyal to the US as everyone else.

In the United States, nearly every prominent political leader -- Jewish and non-Jewish, Democrat and Republican -- ardently supports Israel and the Jewish nationalist ideology upon which it is based. In Washington, political leaders of both major parties insist on US support for Israel as an ethnically Jewish state. They fervently support, and eagerly seek the favor of, influential Jewish-Zionist groups, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Everyone -- whether Jewish or non-Jewish -- who claims to support Israel should, if he is honest and consistent, endorse the view of Israeli prime minister Sharon, and other Zionist leaders, and support the migration of Jews everywhere to Israel. But of course that’s not what happens.

With regard to Zionism and Israel, the attitude and policies of nearly all American political leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish, is characterized by hypocrisy and deceit. To put it another way, Zionist Jews and their non-Jewish supporters embrace a blatant double standard. Jewish-Zionist organizations, along with their non-Jewish allies, support one social-political ideology for Israel and the world Jewish community, and a completely different one for the United States and other non-Jewish countries. They insist that ethnic nationalism is evil and bad for non-Jews, while at the same time they vigorously support ethnic nationalism -- that is, Zionism -- for Jews.

They insist that Israel is and must be a Jewish nationalist state, with a privileged status for its Jewish population, including immigration laws that discriminate against non-Jews. At the same time, Jewish-Zionist groups and leaders, and the non-Jews who support them, insist that in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other countries, there must be no privileged status for anyone based on race, ethnicity or religion.

Our political leaders tell us that American Jews should be encouraged to think of themselves as a distinct national group with an identity and community interests separate from those of other Americans. At the same time American politicians insist that Zionist Jews be given all rights as full and equal US citizens. On the basis of this double standard, Jews are given a privileged status in American political and cultural life.

Americans are led to believe that Zionism is a benign outlook of altruistic and righteous support for a so-called Jewish homeland. In fact, Zionism is an ideology and movement of ethnically-based Jewish nationalism that reinforces the identity and self-image of Jews as a distinct and separate community with interests different from those of non-Jews, and which strengthens the already powerful world Jewish community.

Notes

  1. New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition (1978?), p. 1654.
  2. Th. Herzl, Der Judenstaat. ( http://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Der_Judenstaat/Einleitung / http://www.zionismus.info/judenstaat/02.htm )
    Also quoted in: M. Weber, “Zionism and the Third Reich,” The Journal of Historical Review, July-August 1993, p. 29. ( http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n4p29_Weber.html )
  3. Kevin MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents (Praeger,1998), pp. 45, 48.
  4. Memo of Nov. 22, 1899. R. Patai, ed., The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl (New York: 1960), Vol. 3, p. 888.
  5. Louis D. Brandeis, “The Jewish Problem and How to Solve It.” Speech of April 25, 1915. ( http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/personality/sources_document11.html / http://www.law.louisville.edu/library/collections/brandeis/node/234 )
  6. “Dr. Wise Urges Jews to Declare Selves as Such,” New York Herald Tribune, June 13, 1938, p. 12.
  7. Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), p. 90. Quoted in: Albert S. Lindemann, The Jew Accused (1991), p. 277.
  8. “French Jews Must `Move to Israel’,” BBC News, July 18, 2004 ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3904943.stm )
    See also: “Sharon Urges Jews to Go to Israel,” BBC News, Nov. 17, 2003. ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3275979.stm )
  9. M. Weber, “Zionism and the Third Reich,” The Journal of Historical Review, July-August 1993 (Vol. 13, No. 4), pp. 29-37.
    http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n4p29_Weber.html )
  10. Das Schwarze Korps, Sept. 26, 1935. Quoted in: Francis R. Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question (Univ. of Texas, 1985), p. 56-57.
  11. These days the Nuremberg Laws are routinely portrayed as imposing outrageous and inhumane discrimination against Jews. But to put this in perspective, it’s worth mentioning two points. First: the Nuremberg Laws ban on marriage between Jews and non-Jews is consistent with the law in Israel today, where such marriages are not permitted, as well as with the prohibition on such marriages as laid out in the Hebrew scriptures. (See, for example: Numbers 25: 6-8; Deuteronomy 7:3; Ezra 9: 12; 10: 10-11; Nehemiah 10: 30; 13: 25.)
      Second, in 1935 less than one percent of the population of Germany was Jewish, which meant that the Nuremberg laws ban on marriage between Jews and non-Jews was irrelevant for the vast majority of the country’s population. By contrast, in the United States during the 1930s, most of the American states had laws in place that prohibited marriage between people of different races. Because the portion of the American population that was racially non-majority was much larger than in Germany, the US racial laws impacted a much larger portion of the US population at the time than the Nuremberg laws affected the German population.
  12. Jüdische Rundschau, Sept. 17, 1935. Quoted in: Y. Arad, and others, Documents on the Holocaust (Jerusalem: 1981), pp. 82-83.
  13. W. Feilchenfeld, “Ha’avara,” New Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel (Herzl Press, 1994), pp. 535-536; M. Weber, “Zionism and the Third Reich,” The Journal of Historical Review, July-August 1993, pp. 33-34.
  14. Edwin Black, The Transfer Agreement (1984), p. 379.