How Zionism drives Israel: Some timely answers from History

If you have been following the Israeli war on Lebanon for over a month, by now you might be wondering about a lot of issues. You might be asking yourself, for example, why Israel is by far the most aggressively militant state of its size; why most of the Western media are uncritically pro-Israel in their war coverage; why the U.S. is supplying Israel with the latest in modern killing machines; why Israel can blamelessly kill civilians in increasing numbers while supposedly attacking enemy combat positions; why Western politicians fully support Israel’s war on Lebanon; and what, at the root of it all, fuels Israel’s adamant hatred of all Arabs, both Muslim and Christian .

The short answer is that Zionism drives Israel.

To understand this, you need to know about the history of European Jewish nationalism, commonly known as Zionism. An excellent book on the subject was written by an American, Elmer Berger. What may surprise you is that The Jewish Dilemma [1] was published back in 1945! Berger was a Jew who dared to criticize Zionism, even as he witnessed its growing influence in the West.

"In August 1943, I was a spectator at the American Jewish Conference," Berger writes. "A disciple of [Theodore] Herzl delivered a thundering oration, unequivocally demanding a Jewish commonwealth for the Jewish people in Palestine; he received hysterical applause and cheers. One little old lady, sitting next to me … asked: ‘Does that mean we get Palestine now?’"

Berger credits the evolution of Zionism to four men who formulated "the doctrine of [Jewish nationalism] as a total philosophy of Jewish life and as a cure-all for [the] ills of a ‘Jewish people’."

The first was Moses Hess, a German Jew who in 1862 advocated Jewish nationalism in his book, Rome and Jerusalem .[2] Hess’s philosophy, observed Berger "was concerned less with Jews than with an artificial entity of the ‘Jewish people’. It was never to be enough for this philosophy that ‘where I am well off, there is my country’."

The second was Leo Pinsker, a Russian Jew who in 1882 published his book, Auto-emancipation ,[3] a title that "expressed in a single word the essence of Jewish nationalism in direct opposition to the philosophy of emancipation and integration. For as to Hess, so too to Pinsker, the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native; he remains an alien everywhere." The answer to this "homelessness" of all Jews, Berger noted about Pinsker, must be the opposite of integration. "It must be the solidifying of Jews into a unit known as the Jewish ‘nation’."

"Hess and Pinsker were neither religionists nor philanthropists," Berger continues. "They were proponents of an entirely new thesis. They were secular nationalists."

In the meantime, Jews in the 1880s were building colonies in Palestine, but it was not clear if "they would go as citizens of another land or as the first exhibits of a reconstituted Jewish nation."

The third of Zionism’s pioneers was Asher Ginsburg,[4] a Ukrainian Jew who stated that by the end of the century Jewish colonization in Palestine "must be regarded not as an economic or philanthropic, but as a national, problem."

The fourth was Theodore Herzl, an Austrian Jew who in 1895 wrote Das Judenstaat ( The Jewish State ).[5]

Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress, held in Basle, Switzerland August 29-31, 1897 where "what was lacking in homogeneity was compensated for in frenzy and in evangelical emotional anticipation."

"Out of the Congress came what has ever since been known as the Basle Program, the unalterable basis of Zionism: The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a publicly secured, legally assured home. The promotion, on suitable lines, of the colonization of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers. The organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, local and international, in accordance with laws of each country. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and consciousness. Preparatory steps toward obtaining Government consent, where necessary, to attainment of the aim of Zionism."

Berger devoted substantial pages in his book to criticizing the Basel program of Zionism and explaining how it would endanger the well-being of both Jews and non-Jews.

"[T]he logic of Zionism leads to an accentuation of differences between human beings who are Jews and other humans . . . This conditioning of Jews was to be carried on by these cells of Zionism established in each country, all pyramiding into an organic whole in the World Zionist Congress . . . [Zionism] had no connection with refuge and rescue of harassed Jews, but rather the avowed purpose of recreating a Jewish nation in exile. Here was the wedge of Jewish nationalism to be driven between Jews and other human beings."

More than six decades later, Berger’s The Jewish Dilemma remains a timely must-read for everyone who truly cares about peace in the Middle East.


[1]. The Jewish Dilemma
by Elmer Berger

[2]. Rome and Jerusalem
by Moses Hess

[3]. Auto-emancipation
by Leon Pinsker

[4]. Selected Essays by Ahad Ha-‘Am
by Asher Ginsburg (pseud.: Ahad Haam)

[5]. The Jewish State
by Theodor Herzl