This article originally appeared in the March 12, 1924, issue.
Of all the concepts which are associated with the Jewish problem and the outstanding effort which is being made toward its solution, perhaps none has become involved in obscurer controversy than “political Zionism.” So keen and even acrimonious have the debates become that the doctrine which this phrase inadequately represents has been torn out of its setting of history and reality, like a sentence wrenched out of its context, and has become a sort of Ding an sich, a self-inclosed system of ideas, or, better still, an incantation, capable of effecting a wonderful transformation in the relationship of Palestine to the Jewish people.
Yet political Zionism can no more be dissociated from practical affairs than law from natural process. For us there is only Zionism–and “cultural Zionism,” “practical Zionism,” “political Zionism” are only convenient figures of speech, arbitrary approaches or methods of discussion. To talk of political Zionism as something which the Zionist can either accept or deny is to talk of granting permission to two and two to make four. Political Zionism is not something outside of the process of building up a homeland in Palestine which may be added to that process or withheld from it. It is inherent in every step. Every affirmative act in the creation of a Jewish center in Palestine is political.
Political Zionism, in brief, is the creation of circumstances favorable to Jewish settlement in Palestine. The circumstance most favorable to Jewish settlement in Palestine is the existence of a Jewish settlement in Palestine. The larger the Jewish settlement the greater the ease with which it can be increased, the less the external opposition to its increase; the smaller the Jewish settlement in Palestine the more difficult its increase, the more obstinate the opposition.
One does not create political Zionism by affirming it, any more than one destroys it by denying it. Men who have never heard the phrase, and others who have combated it, have been political Zionists. Those first pioneers of nearly half a century ago, who went out to Palestine and founded the first modern colonies, who laid the foundations of the still small but flourishing Jewish settlement, were actually the founders of political Zionism. They built up positions, they furnished proof of the practicality of the scheme, they gave the most convincing demonstration of the will behind the demand; their work, whatever they intended, reached beyond the immediate achievement and beyond the Jewish people. The world respects the settlements in Palestine more than all the protestations of the Jews.
Those who believe, or who affect to believe, that some sort of system can be devised whereby Palestine can be “given” to the Jewish people are talking of a Zionism which is not political but metaphysical. A country is not a thing done up in a parcel and delivered on demand. England can no more “give” Palestine to the Jews than it can give them history or a culture. All that England can do–and is making serious efforts to do–is to create conditions whereby the Jews cannot “take” Palestine but can grow into it again, by a natural and organic process.
England could not even give Palestine to the Jews if that country were entirely uninhabited. It could permit Jewish immigration “as of right and not on sufferance”– which is precisely what it is doing now. The rest is in the hands of the Jewish people. That Jewish immigration into Palestine should be recognized as being “of right and not on sufferance” is the triumph of political Zionism. The preamble to that part of the British Mandate over Palestine which says: “Whereas recognition has been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their National Home in that country,” is the triumph of political Zionism. This recognition is not British alone, but is common to all the nations which combined to give the Mandate, and to America, which indorsed the essential part of the Mandate in a special resolution.
But the idea that England should “give” Palestine to the Jews is particularly crude and Utopian when it is linked up with the suggestion of expropriation or removal of the Arabs. Fortunately no such suggestion has ever come from a responsible Zionist leader. For apart from its inherent impracticality and immorality, the idea again betrays a complete dissociation from the realities of the situation. England would not commit such an act even if the Jewish people were to demand it. And the Jewish people would not demand it because it realizes that, in laying the foundations of its old-new home, it must not tolerate even a suspicion of faith in those vicious imperialist principles which have been the source of half its woes.
If there is any significance at all in the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland, it must be made evident first in the attitude of the Jewish people toward the nations in the midst of which that homeland is being built. Friendliness with the Arabs is not simply a matter of convenience or expedience; it is a cardinal doctrine; it is an essential part of the Jewish outlook, an aspect of the spiritual dream which the Jewish homeland is to embody. If we reject the vicious shifts and tricks of what is inaccurately called Realpolitik it is not only because of its essential stupidity and ineffectiveness, but because our entire history has been a living protest against it. To solve one problem by the creation of two others is a method which is not unapproved in the world of practical men. Perhaps it pays in the case of fly-by-night nations, though even most of these live long enough to witness the undoing of their practical wisdom. In the case of the Jews, who are, as it were, a permanent institution, there is a reputation to be cherished and maintained. Nor is Jewish-Arab cooperation a new concept. The ideal already has an illustrious history. It is not so long ago–as history, and particularly Jewish history, goes–that Jews and Arabs worked hand in hand from Granada to Bagdad in founding and spreading one of the most brilliant civilizations: when the rest of Europe was still steeped in the dark slumber of the Middle Ages, Spain, Mesopotamia, and Northern Africa were brightly illumined by a great Arab Jewish culture. That culture has never disappeared; it survived, transmuted and disguised, in the Renaissance to which it contributed generously; its unacknowledged issue today forms part of our Western civilization.
For I would make it clear that the primal appeal of the Jewish homeland in Palestine is spiritual. Zionism cannot solve immediately, it can only relieve to some extent, the Jewish world problem. If Palestine were empty today, if it could absorb fifty thousand immigrants a year (and by the way these two conditions are not supplementary: an empty Palestine could not absorb Jews more rapidly than Palestine as it is), it would still fail to solve the problem of eight million of Jews subject to the moods and caprices of unfriendly surrounding nations. But even at that the refugee problem in its relation to Palestine has another aspect. Our plea to the Western world to open its gates to the persecuted Jews loses much of its cogency if that part of the problem which is in our own hands remains unsolved. When we are sending as many refugees into Palestine as that country can absorb, we have a double claim on the sympathy of the world.
One must not, of course, talk of “sending Jews into Palestine” as though this were purely an arithmetical problem. Jews “sent to Palestine” cannot stay there unless they can be absorbed healthily into the economic life of the country. Preparation must be made for every Jew who wishes to enter Palestine. In the last three years we have sent over thirty thousand Jews into the country. Tens of thousands more await the opportunity to enter it. They cannot be admitted pell-mell and at random, Iest the emigration from Palestine finally counterbalance the immigration into it. And by preparation we mean of course the growth and development of the country’s resources and the integration of newcomers with its economic life. Money is needed for this task; but we need equally a sense of organic construction. Restriction of immigration into Palestine has nothing to do with political conditions. Given the means we could double and treble the immigration, though we must understand that even unlimited means would not enable us to ship a hundred thousand Jews a year to Palestine. It takes time for a small country like Palestine to digest and assimilate fifteen or twenty thousand newcomers.
It would be false to see the ultimate possibilities of the Zionist experiment in terms of Palestine alone. The peculiar position of Palestine fits it to play a role of extraordinary importance in the Near East–a role which it has already entered on. The development of Palestine is the key to the development of a vast territory once the most fruitful in the world, today cut off from the centers of civilization and given over to neglect and decay. Unfortunately hunger is impatient, and the immense resources of the Mesopotamian hinterland are neglected because they cannot be developed in a day. Yet the first steps toward this development have already been taken. The linking up of Bagdad with Haifa is the tangible evidence. The carrying of mail in seven hours between these two points separated hitherto by three and a half weeks of laborious traveling; the immediate prospects of a railway track which will carry freight back and forth in three days, these are both symbols and achievements. Their creation was made possible only with the awakening of Palestine by Jewish enterprise, and Jewish enterprise is perhaps destined to play an exceedingly important part in the economic reconstruction of the Near East.
Yet I must repeat that if the question of the Jewish refugee gives a new spur to the Zionist effort, it is not and never was the primal motive. There was something more affirmative behind the first stirrings of the movement–and that something became more coherent and self-conscious as the movement gathered momentum and power. Zionism envisages more than the negative relief of suffering, more than philanthropic effort, and Palestine to the Zionist was never merely a last desperate opportunity to escape the persecution of the world. Indeed, whatever fortuitous cooperation there has been between anti-Semitism and Zionism, it would be quite wrong to make the two interdependent. The Jew does not depend on anti-Semitism for his existence, and Zionism is the strongest expression of the Jewish will to live.
The hope and lure of Palestine, its special appeal to the Zionist, lay in the authentic Jewish life and culture which could again develop there, after an interruption of twenty centuries. The concept of Jewish culture–and even Jewish culture in Palestine–has too often been of a “literary” nature. It is true that Zionist effort has succeeded in reviving the Hebrew language so that throughout an entire public-school and high-school system Hebrew is the language of tuition, so that Jewish children again use Hebrew as their natural medium. It is equally true that within a few months the Hebrew University is to be opened. It is equally true that concomitant with the Zionist renaissance there has come an extraordinary resurgence of Hebrew poetry–certainly the finest we have produced since the time of the Spanish singers–and perhaps the finest since the days of the Hebrew prophets. But culture must not be dissociated from life, and when we talk of a renewed Jewish culture, an authentic Jewish culture, in Palestine, we are not talking only of schools and literary people.
A civilization is whole and complete. The Jewish village in the valley of Jizreel, the Jewish cooperative colony under the shadow of Mount Hermon, the Jewish merchants of Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, the young men and women who are building roads and draining marshes–these are, after all, the material of the new Jewish culture. These people, working in a world of their own, from clean and unspoiled beginnings, are apt to produce that now forgotten value–the purely Jewish culture. In all other countries, in all other colonies, the Jew comes to add and to adapt. He is nowhere free to be himself; he must be that which an established civilization will permit him to be. With the best will in the world a nation welcoming the Jew cannot remove the tacit pressure and demand of its civilization and culture on the individuality of the Jew. But in Palestine the Jew can, for the first time since his dispersion, enter again into direct relation with his foundations. No one there stands between him and the first principles of life. He is back on the soil in every sense of the word: it would perhaps be better to say that he is back on the earth.
It is idle to speculate as to the forms which Jewish life in Palestine will take in two or three generations from now. To say that the Jew will give this or that to the world, as the result of a restoration of Palestinian Jewish life, is to indulge in vicarious generosity. We must say frankly that we cannot foresee the end of the experiment. We can only say that its beginnings are extraordinarily auspicious, that all circumstances combine to convince us of the value of the effort, that the vitality and richness of the Jewish people precludes the fear that the final product will be either commonplace or meaningless. Given a chance to be himself, the Jew will certainly not serve the world less than when forced to be everybody but himself. And that restoration to himself implies, too, the rehabilitation of his reputation in his own eyes and in the eyes of the world.