Weizmann vs. Herzl/Jabotinsky

I am currently reading The Crisis of 1933 by Francisco Gil-White. He begins with an historical review of Jewish politics in the Nineteenth Century. I found this particular chapter of great interest.

Weizmann vs. Herzl/Jabotinsky

“Chaim Weizmann was a member of the community of young Russian Jews who had been locked out of universities in Russia because of czarist numeri clausi and had gone to Germany to study,” where the assimilationist movement among ‘educated’ Jews was strongest. Weizmann had joined the Zionist movement but, influenced by the Russian socialists — ‘modernizing’ Marxists with a fiercely anti-religious ideology drenched in antisemitism — allied with other Zionists of equal temperament, broke with Herzl, and split the Zionist Organization, creating the so-called Democratic Faction. “Herzl,” though not himself a religious Jew, “was worried about the potential large-scale defection of Orthodox Russian Jewry from the Zionist cause in the face of the Democratic Faction’s anti-religious agenda, [so he] hurriedly organized a meeting of supportive Russian Zionists, both Orthodox and nonreligous, in Vilna in February, in 1902. A religious Zionist party, Mizrachi, was formed at the meeting as a counterweight to the Democratic Faction within the Zionist Organization.” Soon this party gained the allegiance of many Zionists groups all over Russia, something that Weizmann didn’t like at all, and which led him to declare: “The rabbinical party is organizing itself in Jesuit fashion, and I think of their machinations with disgust. Everything is vulgar and foul.”[50]

When Herzl died in 1904, at age 44, Weizmann managed to become the leader of the Zionist Organization because Max Nordau, Herzl’s ally, refused to take the helm. Thsi was a catastrophe. In line with his Marxist ideology, Weizmann began working to purge the Zionist Organization of anything that was “clerical, bourgeois, and conservative.”[51] He wanted to import into Palestine only “an elite… uninfected with the dross of Jewish bourgeois capitalism or traditional religiosity [in order to] construct a Jewish socialist utopia in Eretz Israel.”[51a] This left out the Eastern European Jews who most needed a place of refuge, the majority, and stood Herzl on his head. Weizmann was quite explicit in a letter he wrote in 1918 that he didn’t want any Eastern Jews in Palestine and worried that if the Jews were forced out of Europe, “we shall have all the miserable refugees who will be driven out of Poland, Galicia, Rumania, etc., at the doors of Palestine. We shall be swamped in Palestine and shall never be able to set up a community worth having there.” Later he would declare publicly that the Jews of Europe, whom Herzl had founded the Zionist movement to save, were “economic and moral dust in a cruel world.” He did not mean to save them: “The old ones will pass; they will bear their fate or they will not… Only a branch will survive” (his branch).[51b]

The leader of the rebellion against the policies of Weizmann and his ally David Ben-Gurion was Valdimir Zeev Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky wanted to organize, under protection of an imperial power, and fast, the immigration of many Jews to Palestine so that they could make them a majority there and declare a state that would protect the Jews who were being attacked with violent pogroms in Eastern and Central Europe. This was, precisely, Theodore Herzl’s strategy. But Jabotinsky injected a thoroughly military spirit. He had begun by organizing Jewish self-defense forces among the Russian Jews so they would not be passive victims of the pogroms. When WWI exploded, “he was convinced that Jews’ participation in the armed struggle” — a Jewish Legion contributing to the conquest of the Middle East — “would give them a claim to the spoils of war” after the victory, and they would be able to build their state.[52] “It took almost three years of single-minded effort on the part of Jabotinsky and much agitation on the part of others to bring the Jewish Legion into being,” a force that rose to 5000 Jewish soldiers.[53] But the British rapidly disbanded the Jewish Legion when they created the British Mandate and the Jews were once again without defense. When, with British encouragement, the Arabs launched a wave of terrorism against the Jews in 1920, “Jabotinsky again organized the Haganah self-defense forces which, many years later, became the nucleus of the Israeli army.”[54]

Whereas Weizmann wanted, in his words, nothing more than “a place where they [his Jews] formed an important part of the population… however small this place might be. For example, something like Monaco, with a university instead of a gambling-hall,”[62a] condemning once a gain a handful of Jews to live without protection in antisemitic lands, Jabotinsky wanted lots of Jewish immigration to Palestine, and fast, in order to acquire as much land as possible and create there a militarily capable majority that could declare a State.

Whereas Weizmann was a Marxist who rubbed shoulders with, and waxed sycophantic towards, anti-Zionist millionaires whom he wanted to include in an expanded Jewish Agency to help him develop Palestine, Jabotinsky was “unalterably opposed” to any such ideological oxymoron, and though he much preferred the free market to socialism, he “did not embrace capitalists — especially the very rich — without reservation,” the way Weizmann did.[62]

In historical context it is obvious that Jabotinsky was right about everything. In Palestine Hajj Amin al Husseini, the local Arab leader, created by the British as a tool of oppression against the Jews, was already intimidating or murdering all opposition to him among the Arabs, leaving only those who allied with his project of extermination. The Jewish immigrants who escaped the Russian pogroms had merely come to the Palestinian pogroms. The exile (Galut) had not ended. Without a policy to create a true Jewish state with a Jewish majority, and a military self-defense policy to confront the violence of Husseini, there would not be a long-term solution. This was Jabotinsky’s argument.

Here we are, a century later and the fight continues.

April 3, 2017 | 1 Comment »

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