Chapter V


1.  Distinguishing Characteristics of European Jewish Population | 2.  The ‘Enlightenment’  and Its Impact on Western European Jewry | 3.  East European Military Conscription, Discriminatory Legislation and Pogroms | 4.  The Precursors to Political Zionism in Eastern Europe | 5. The ‘Dreyfus’ Case: The Catalyst for Political Zionism | 6. Jewish - Arab Cultural Relations

Chapter IV examined the influence which mid and late nineteenth century European political pressure exerted on the Ottomans, exploiting the latter’s vulnerability following the Crimean war. It also impacted on the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael - the Land of Israel.

Chapter V is prefaced by a discussion on the diverse nature of Zionism and its distinction from European colonialism. This is followed by a chronological continuation of the previous Chapter, Chapter IV, (with some overlap) but viewed from the perspective of European Jewry whose experience was shaped by its oppressed minority status within a gentile environment. This experience ultimately led to the emergence of political Zionism as the root and branch of Jewish nationalism and its acknowledgment as an international movement.

The material presented hereunder deals with the following topics:

Section 1   Distinguishing Characteristics of the European Jewish Population - dispersion, lack of territorial sovereignty and minority persecution

Section 2  “Enlightenment and its Impact on Western European Jewry” reviews the political and economic situation of the Jews of Western Europe.

Section 3 contrasts the situation of the Jews of Eastern Europe -Military Conscription, Discriminatory Legislation and Pogroms - where physical, political and economic pressure forced large segments of the Jewish population to migrate mainly to the United States. Only a very small percentage chose to strike out for Palestine but with an effect far beyond their number

Section 4 entitled “The Precursors  to Political Zionism in Eastern Europe briefly describes individual and small group attempts to settle unofficially in Palestine and their reliance upon philanthropic sponsors. This strategy was, however, unequal to the task of organising mass emigration.

The ‘Dreyfus’ Case: The Catalyst for Political Zionism (section 5.) ultimately spawned an emergent Jewish political leadership and organisation. This forms the subject matter of the next chapter, Chapter VI which encompasses the efforts of Theodore Herzl to found the first Zionist institutions to gain international recognition for the creation of a Jewish Homeland and which were to provide, ultimately a formal, legal and constitutional solution to the ‘Jewish Question’

Finally, this Chapter closes with the impact which European Jewish immigration to Palestine had on the Ottomans and on the Palestinian Arab population (section 6).

Before entering into the detail of this Chapter, two preliminary points should be kept in mind a) the diverse elements of Zionism and b) the non-colonial nature of Zionism.

The Diverse Nature of Zionism

Zionism never was nor is monolithic in its character. In no way did it embrace the conventionally understood focus and objectives of other nationalist movements. The latter are generally an indigenous but minority population having a common language, religion and a more or less occupying a defined territory. Any desire for self-determination is generally rejected by the political-religious regime under which that population is governed. Their aim is to overthrow or secede from the regime which they view as oppressive.

In contrast, the Zionist movement or rather its components comprised a spectrum of ideological and cultural strands, in which each, with varying degrees of commitment, advocated the restoration and regeneration of the Jewish people in their reconstructed ancestral homeland.

Despite these diverse philosophical threads, the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland was the predominant and cohesive force through which Zionist unity was achieved. This resulted in the emergence of a political entity capable of gaining international recognition while conserving the distinctiveness of its components. These factional elements - a spectrum of secular groups - some culturally emancipated others politically, socially and economically diverse- together with religious Zionists were each represented in the early Zionist movement.

These strands still prevail in Israel’s contemporary political system. Its government has always comprised a coalition having no clearly defined, focused and united set of policies. In times of peace and tranquillity, such government may be an excellent example of democracy. In times of conflict, however, the lack of unity creates unnecessary turmoil internally so that any political or military action which is generated lacks cohesion and concentration of purpose. Contemporary Israeli Government policy is not expressed in a single unified voice, but in multiple voices and enables her external political adversaries and military opponents to exploit the internal divergences of opinion.

Zionism As Distinct from Colonialism

Arab opponents of Israel assert that a Jewish State is a European colonial intrusion into Middle-Eastern Islamic indigenous culture which is to be resisted.

This accusation of colonialism carries the full force of a political broadside against Zionism: Colonialism in modern international parlance is anathema and is opposed as being expansionist and imperialistic. It is the imposition of a national sovereignty over territory beyond its borders. Colonialism implies the settlement of population from the home country, often accompanied by the exploitation, displacement or extermination of an indigenous population. It is said to arise where the objective of the incoming population is to convert, subdue and rule the indigenous population of a given territory in accordance with the values of the colonisers.

European colonial imperialists of the eighteenth, nineteen and early twentieth centuries tended to send plantation owner/managers, militia, civil employees, merchants and traders to their colonies for the purpose of spreading the hegemony of the mother country and exploiting the natural resources discovered in the new land for the latter’s economic benefit,

By contrast, the objectives underlying Jewish immigration to Palestine were the very antithesis of colonialism. Zionism cannot be viewed as an attempt to extend the sovereignty of the states whence the Jews migrated. Israel and Zionism – of whatever strand - does not have and never had any colonial aspirations as defined above. The essence of Zionism is the peaceful return to Eretz Yisrael of Jews forcibly dispersed and exiled against their own volition.

It is true that the catalyst for this return was the political and economic oppression under which European Jewry suffered. However, as Chapter II has shown, Jewry has maintained a continuous spiritual, cultural and physical connection with Eretz Yisrael for over two thousand years.

Chapter IV has shown that early Jewish settlements were established in Palestine by visionaries and pioneers who came, not as “parasites” with the intention of exploiting the existing population, but rather with a desire to create with their own hands; becoming self-sufficient, independent and living a life of dignity rather than one of squalid poverty and social denigration. The principle of self-labour was cardinal in Zionism.

The point being emphasised here is that while the early Zionists established colonies as a means of slow and gradual development of the natural potential of the land, present-day Israel does not espouse ‘colonial’ values or aspirations as above defined, despite some contemporary claims to the contrary. The Palestinian claim that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank amounts to colonial expansion will be examined in depth in a later Chapter.

While Jewish aspirations have moved in the direction of establishing a Jewish majority and dominant culture in Israel, its Middle East policy has been directed towards an ideal of co-existence with the pre-existing population, not its obliteration. As will be demonstrated in the next Chapter, Chapter VI, this very objective found expression in the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1922 Palestine Mandate and on the organisational, immigration and developmental activities of the Zionist institutions which were in subsequent years to carry the burden of establishing the Jewish homeland in Palestine

(see Hayim Greenberg, Is Zionism Imperialistic? in Enzo Serini and R.E.Ashery (ed) Jews and Arabs in Palestine, Hechalutz Press, New York, NY, 1936, p 249)


Much of the background to the Jewish immigration and land acquisition is to be found in the many published histories on the origins of Zionism, such as Gideon Shimoni, ‘The Zionist Ideology’ (Brandeis University Press, Hanover NH , 1995); David Vital, ‘The Origins of Zionism (Oxford University Press, London 1975);  together with Ben Halpern and Jehuda Reinharz, ‘Zionism and the Creation of a New Society(Oxford University Press, New York, 1998);  and in the biographies of Zionist leaders: Chaim Weizmann, ‘Trial and Error’ (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn, 1972); Shabtai Teveth’s  Ben Gurion, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, (Houghjton Mifflin, Boston, 1987); and Menachem Begin, ‘The Revolt’ (Nash Publishing New York 1977). The material presented hereunder is intended neither to be comprehensive nor to duplicate or summarise what has already been researched and recorded.

1. Distinguishing Characteristics of European Jewish Population

a. Dispersion

In contrast to other religious and ethnic populations who have tended to live in more or less concentrated and defined territorial areas, the Jews, as a people and as a religious-ethnic group, have experienced dispersion and oppression. They also exhibit a number of other characteristics which bear directly on both the early and contemporary Jewish resettlement of Eretz Yisrael-Palestine.

Ever since their expulsion from Palestine by Romans between 132-135 CE, Jews have endured their dispersion in the belief in the eventually of an ‘Ingathering’ which would involve a “ Return to the Land” synonymous with ‘Redemption.’ As a consequence, even if they had been so permitted and welcomed by the indigenous people of the lands in which they found themselves, Jews sought to gain equality with the majority population without losing their identity through assimilation. This was not because they held feelings of superiority, but rather from the desire and the need to maintain some semblance of their cultural and religious heritage.

b. Peoplehood Without Territory

A second Jewish characteristic, valid until the turn of the twentieth century, was that despite their not having any defined territorial base under their political control, Jews have maintained a sense of ‘peoplehood’ in terms of their culture, literacy, religious practice and language. Religious practice, in particular, ensured Jewish separateness. While observance of the dietary laws, the Sabbath and other Old Testament commandments lay at the base of their identity, literacy from a very young age and the study of biblical texts and Talmudic analysis provided Jewish males with tools to take advantage of the newly emerging scientific and literary opportunities characteristic of European enlightenment. In the process, however, adhesion to their ‘peoplehood’ came under threat.

c. Persecuted Minority

A third and important characteristic which has had a very strong impact on the behaviour of the contemporary State of Israel and its population in relation to its neighbours is that the Jews have always constituted a minority, generally persecuted, impoverished and downtrodden lacking security of person, property or residence. This was especially true during the Middle Ages in Europe, when persecution of Jews in Christian countries was the rule rather than the exception.

  • Crusaders, out of religious fervour, massacred Jews in their thousands.

  • In 1215 the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed an official policy of restrictions similar to those of Islam and ordered all Jews to wear distinctive badges.

  • Throughout urban Europe Jews were forced to live in ghettos and their freedom of movement restricted.

  • During the 13th and 14th centuries several European monarchs, including England’s Edward I in 1290 and French King Charles VI in 1394 confiscated Jewish property and expelled the owners, many of whom who migrated eastwards to Germany, Poland and Russia.

  • The Black Death of the 14th century also saw Jews massacred throughout Europe after being falsely accused of causing the disease by poisoning Christian wells.

  • Fifteenth century Spain and Portugal witnessed systematic persecution of Jews by the Catholic Church resulting in their eventual expulsion from Spain in 1492 Spain and from Portugal in 1497 and their migration to European Turkey.

By the end of the 16th century in Western Europe only remnants of the old Jewish communities remained.

Paradoxically, the Catholic Church which constituted the major source of both religious and temporal power, and also a major influence in the spread of anti-Semitism, found itself under attack for its impingement into secular areas of society and its autocratic wielding of power.

The above explains to some degree present-day Israel’s preoccupation with national security.

2. The ‘Enlightenment’ and Its Impact on Western European Jewry

The Christian reformation movements in Europe (Lutherism in Germany (1517); Calvinism in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands (1533); and in England (1529-1534)) split the ubiquitous religious power of the Roman Catholic Church, as did the 17th century enlightenment movement in Germany, France and England reduce its influence in temporal affairs. Culminating in the Peace of Westphalia (May 15 - October 24, 1648) which followed the end the Thirty Years War, the treaty brought about the separation of Church and State in Western Europe and released intellectual and scientific development from its religion-driven straight-jacket.

The Enlightenment movement was predicated upon:

  • the Universe being fundamentally rational and capable of being understood through the exercise of human rationality;

  • scientific discovery through empirical observation;

  • human improvement through education; and

  • the removal of religious doctrine as the basis for understanding the physical and human worlds,

These assumptions together with mercantilism and political emancipation constituted the building blocks of the of the secular west-European states of France, Germany and Britain.

In an era in which the temporal power of European states was severed from that of the Church and in which nation building became the dominant political force, Jews were adversely affected to a considerable degree. The anti-Semitic influences and attitude created at the grass roots levels by the Church towards the Jews still maintained their potency, more or less subliminally in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe – Russia, Romania and Poland – anti-Semitism was overt and provided the groundswell for the Jewish return to Israel. The catalyst, however, came from the West.

The Protestant Reformation with its increased religious, political and social freedom created an environment of sufficient tolerance to enable Jews to re-establish themselves in Western Europe. In Britain, Oliver Cromwell permitted their return in 1650, while in France the Jews were enfranchised by the National Assembly in 1791, consistent with the democratic concepts of the French Revolution. Napoleon, during his military campaigns, opened the ghettos and emancipated the Jews as he marched across Europe. Apart from the period between 1815 and 1860, when Jewish repression by states once subject to Napoleon was reinstituted and his policies reversed, Jewish emancipation in Western Europe became nominally secure.

Jewish Emancipation in France was manifested in the removal of legal obstacles that prevented individual Jews from advancing into society. The free professions were open to them as were careers in government administration and the Army.

The emancipation of the Jews had far-reaching religious, cultural, and political effects. Slowly, as Jews took their place in the modern world, the wall erected around the Jewish community by strict, traditional Judaism began to crumble. … By translating the Pentateuch into German and teaching the value of cultural affiliations between Jews and their non-Jewish environment, Mendelssohn opened the route for the cultural contributions made by later Jews, both to the Jewish community and to the world. One of the results of his work was the Reform Judaism initiated by German Jews. Many Jewish families discarded Judaism entirely, becoming Christian to increase their cultural and civic opportunities, and this action did not occasion the stern condemnation that it would have if taken only a century before.
JEWS. [Internet]. 2009. The History Channel website. Available from : [Accessed 10 Mar 2009].

With some notable exceptions, the assimilative process left almost untouched Jewish social discrimination and in so doing it created an identity crisis for those who saw themselves first and foremost, as nationalists of the countries in which they resided, but of Jewish persuasion. This was later to become a crucial factor in the political scandal which arose out of ‘Dreyfus Affair’ which divided France in the 1890s and the early 1900s.

Meanwhile, emancipated Jews expressed their identity in establishing and maintaining educational institutions that expounded universal values, rather than predominantly Jewish religious and cultural values as well as providing moral and some financial support for their co-religionists both in Eretz Israel and in Eastern Europe.

This early divergence within European Jewry still remains a potent divisive element in contemporary Israeli politics vis à vis the Palestinians.

The emergent Western Europe became a beacon of physical, intellectual and economic freedom for East European Jewry. The latter, by government edict, was deprived of freedom of movement, constrained in employment and suffered economic destitution. Jews became the object of physical violence at the hands of the mobs in Russia, Poland and Rumania. (See Section 3 below)

The plight of East European Jewry galvanised philanthropists and secular movements in Western Europe to protect the universal human rights of Jews as citizens of countries in which they lived. These included Sir Moses Montifiore and Baron Maurice de Hirsch and a number Jewish secular organisations to whom they gave financial support. The latter, while being committed to advancing projects of a non-sectarian nature, also allocated some financial and technical resources to advance Jewish financial and organisational interests in Palestine, the most prominent of which were Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) and the Jewish Colonial Association.

  1. Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU): Its Educational Commitment in Jewish Palestine

Founded in Paris in 1860 by Adolphe Crémieux, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) was created in response to the ‘Damascus Affair’ - an event in which Jews were falsely accused of having committed the ritual murder of a Christian cleric and his servant. A number of Jews made false confessions under torture and more arrests followed, together with mob attacks on Jewish communities throughout the Middle East.

The affair drew wide international attention, especially in France, where it led to a formidable backlash against Jews. From this tragedy, Jews learned to organise and to lobby publicly for the equal protection of their civil rights.

In addition to protecting Jewish human rights in their countries of residence, one of the goals of the AIU was to combine the ideals of self-defence and self-sufficiency through education and professional development among Jews around the world. The seventeen founding members of the organisation, amongst whom were doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers, and businessmen, represented late 19th century Jewish liberal bourgeoisie - “beneficiaries of light and emancipation, deeply patriotic but simultaneously unwilling to disown their roots.”

In 1870, the AIU succeeding in obtaining a gift from the Ottoman Empire of a lease of a tract of land located near Jaffa, for the purpose of establishing an agricultural school.  This coincided with the efforts of the messianic-driven rabbis to secure financing for settlement projects to absorb the first wave of European Jewish immigrants into Palestine. The combined efforts of the rabbis and the liberal emancipated AIU led by Charles Netter, together with the financial support of Sir Moses Montefiore, resulted in the establishment of Mikve Yisrael an institution which in the future was to provide the educational foundation for later immigrants who wished to engage in agriculture for ideological reasons but lacked the technical know-how. In 1886 the school attracted its first Jewish Sephardic agronomist, Yosef Niego to its staff. He recruited at least one child from every pioneer village founded by the “Hovevei Zion” settlers from Eastern Europe and trained them as farmers. They later became the backbone of Jewish agriculture in Eretz Yisrael, such that Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, is reported to have said:

The State was established thanks to Mikvei-Israel. If there was no Mikveh-Israel, it is doubtful Israel could have been founded. Everything started then. What we did was to complete the task politically and nationally.”

Denis Ojalvo, Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, (

In addition to Mikve Yisrael, Rothschild’s beneficence was expressed elsewhere in Palestine. In 1878, with his financial support and the ultimate agreement of the Sultan, religious pioneers from Jerusalem were permitted to purchase some 3.4 sq. km of swamp land located near the source of the Yarkon River, from the Arab village of Mulabbis. After draining the swamp and overcoming malarial disease, the Jerusalem leadership, augmented by European immigrants, were able in 1883 to establish Petah Tikvah as the first successful agricultural settlement distant from Jerusalem, organised on a co-operative basis. The settlement became one of the models for later migrants, particularly those escaping from the Russian pogroms. Although initially the establishment of the school created Arab opposition, by 1914 its student body included about a dozen Arabs. This is indicative of the fact that before British involvement in the government of Palestine, Jews and Arabs were able to co-operate with each other in the development of the country. (Eric Fischer, The Mikveh Yisrael School During the War Years 1914-18, 4 Jewish Social Studies, (Jul., 1942), pp. 269-274)

b. Jewish Colonial Association

One other institution of importance which gave financial assistance to Russian Jews wishing to migrate was the Jewish Colonial Association (JCA). This is not to be confused with the Jewish Colonial Trust – the latter being a Zionist institution established in 1902 under the auspices of the Zionist Congress.

The JCA, founded by universal philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1891, had as its objective the rendering of assistance and relief to the oppressed, poverty stricken East-European Russian Jewish population. This took the form of extending financial support for Jewish education in Eastern Europe, encouraging Jewish emigration from Russia to North and South America and agricultural training for emigrant Jews and their colonisation throughout the world. Although Eretz Yisrael did not appear prominently as a preferred designation for Jewish resettlement, the JCA did render financial assistance in the early struggles of Jewish colonisation there.
The most notable of its Palestinian activities was to take over the management of Baron Rothschild’s settlements in 1906 when his French authoritarian bureaucrats were unable to work amicably with the immigrant settlers.  Dictatorial directives issued from above did not sit well with the more democratically and communally minded Russian expatriates, who had migrated to escape such officialdom.

3. East European Military Conscription, Discriminatory Legislation and Pogroms

From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland (1025–1569) through the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was one of the most tolerant countries in Europe and home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in Europe. By the mid-16th century 80% of the world's Jews lived there. However, its traditional tolerance began to wane from the 17th century onward following the religious conflicts arising out of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation; conflict which resulted in three partitions of the Polish State between 1772 and 1795 among Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Most Polish Jews now found themselves under Russian domination and the previous policy of Jewish tolerance was reversed. To offset any possible liberal tendencies, Russia instituted official policies of Jewish persecution equal to that inflicted on medieval Jews.

Russian Jews were forbidden to live outside specific areas, and their educational and occupational opportunities were rigidly circumscribed. In particular, the Czarist regime was at pains to isolate and render ineffective the importation into Russia of West-European political ideas and influences which might create any disturbance in the Russian Jewish population.

JEWS. [Internet]. 2009. The History Channel website. Available from : [Accessed 11 Mar 2009].

Created under pressure to rid Moscow of Jewish business competition and the "evil" influence of the Jews on the Russian masses, Czar Cathrine II authorised, in 1791, the establishment of the Pale of Settlement, an area covering present-day Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belorussia, within which Russian Jews were compelled to reside unless exempted by special permit.

Pale of Settlement

Even within the Pale, Jews were discriminated against: they paid double taxes, were forbidden to lease agricultural land, run taverns or receive higher education; they were excluded from employment in the free professions and engaging in many trades. Along with the gentile serfs their lives were one of severe economic hardship, poverty, human degradation, intellectual and educational stagnation – except for traditional religious studies.

Ultimately Imperial policy was aimed at eliminating the Jews by assimilation, by violence and by emigration.

a. Assimilation

The Czarist regime under Nicholas I promoted assimilation of Jewish youth into Russian society through harsh military conscription. Designed to remove men from the Jewish community and make them more "Russian” legislation was introduced in 1827 compelling Jewish boys and men between the ages of 12 and 25 to serve in the army for twenty-five years. As a consequence many of the conscripts were unable to see their families for years, and many were converted to Christianity. By the time the law was rescinded in 1859, an estimated forty to fifty thousand Jewish minors had been conscripted as cantonists (juvenile conscripts). (

b. Mob Violence -Pogroms

Encouraged and even financed by the imperial government periodic massacres of Jews were initiated in order to divert the attention of the Russian populace from their discontent with the feudalistic system still prevailing in the late 19th century.
The first ‘pogrom’ to be so labelled was the anti-Jewish rioting in Odessa in 1821. Other anti-Jewish riots followed in 1859 and 1871. Apart from the short period of liberalisation between 1860-1881 under Czar Alexander II, the constant lack of personal and property security motivated Jewish migration from Europe in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.

The level of violence directed against Jews rose to a head on March 13, 1881 following the assassination of the Czar Alexander by a group of radicals called 'Narodnaya Volya' or 'The People's Will.' There would be two more pogroms between 1891 and 1906.

The 1881 event precipitated the rampage of
thousands of frustrated non-Jewish peasants through the Jewish neighbourhoods of Kiev and Odessa and throughout the Pale of Settlement. With the apparent acquiescence of the government they killed, raped, looted, pillaged and wrought havoc in at least 160 Jewish communities. The result was at least 20,000 Jews were homeless, $80 million in Jewish property was destroyed and 100,000 Jews were reduced to complete poverty.

Alexander II’s successor, Alexander III, encouraged by the Russian Orthodox Church led by Konstantin Pobedonostev, reverted to the earlier conservative and repressive regime.

The situation was made worse by the anti-Semitic ‘May Laws’ promulgated in 1882 that were designated to make life intolerable for Russian Jews. They especially affected those who had become assimilated. Enacted as a temporary measure, the legislation remained in effect for more than thirty years. It expressed a systematic policy of discrimination against the Jews, banning them from living in Russian rural areas and small towns; imposing quotas on the number of Jews admitted to high schools and universities; and prohibiting them from practicing many free professions and from holding public office. The government encouraged Jewish emigration, and for those who chose to stay, there was talk of reinstituting compulsory military service for Jewish children.
(Lloyd D Harris, Sod Jerusalems:, Jewish Agricultural Communities in Frontier Kansas, Kansas Collection Books )

iii. Emigration

Between 1880 and 1920 Russian anti-Semitism forced more than two million Jews to migrate. Most of them went to the USA. However, in the mistaken belief that their ocean carriers had brought them to America, many immigrants found themselves landing in the United Kingdom - an event which was to cause the promulgation of the Aliens Act by the British government in 1905. (see Aliens Acts 1905 and 1919 )
Only a relatively few migrants saw their future in Palestine. Professor Martin Gilbert, in his seminal work on the history of Israel notes that a very small percentage of Russian Jewish emigrants, never more than 2 per cent per annum, went each year to Palestine. But even this small percentage meant that 25,000 Jews reached Palestine between 1882 and 1903. (Martin Gilbert, Israel, A History Black Swan, Transworld Publishers, London 1999, p.5;  see also Gur Alroey Galveston and Palestine: Immigration and Ideology in the Early Twentieth Century

4. The Precursors to Political Zionism in Eastern Europe

In addition to the lack of financial support, the Jews of Eastern Europe lacked political leadership and a centralised organisation to alleviate their situation.

A few wealthy Jewish philanthropists and numerous informal groups emerged to counter East European ethnic discrimination. Many of these groups later became political movements, supporting settlement institutions in Eretz Yisrael under the Zionist umbrella, and holding a variety of ideologies, views, and forms of Jewish religious orientation. The Zionist movement also unintentionally generated some anti-Zionists, especially in Britain and the United States, comprising people who had been successfully assimilated by the majority culture and who feared that the establishment of a Jewish homeland or state would undermine their newly-won acceptance.   

(see Simon Dubnow, Israel Friedlaender, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland: From the Earliest Times Until the Present Day (1915), Avotaynu Inc,  Bergenfield, NJ. 2000)

  • Hovevei Zion


Amongst the informal groups which arose in response to Russian discriminatory practices were those who saw their future in Palestine. Collectively known as ‘Hovevei Zion’ or Hibat Zion’ they arose simultaneously in an uncoordinated fashion. Their objective was to promote Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael and to advance practical Jewish settlement there. In 1890–1891 they found themselves extending help towards the founding of Rehovot and Hadera and the rehabilitation of Mishmar HaYarden. The May Laws, enacted under Czar Alexander III, compelled these groups to operate clandestinely. However, the branch of the movement in Odessa, known as the ‘Odessa Committee,’ managed to gain official governmental recognition as a charitable organization in the Russian Empire under the title of “Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Eretz Israel.” As such, it was permitted to raise funds and organise meetings dedicated to the physical realisation of establishing agricultural settlements in Eretz Yisrael. The political philosophy of its leader,Leon Pinsker (1821-1891), greatly influenced the work of the Committee. As a legally recognised grass roots movement it was to play a significant role within the political organisation of the Zionist Congress created by Theodore Herzl at the turn of the century.

In his early years, Pinsker had believed that assimilation and the attainment of equal rights with his Russian gentile contacts would resolve the Jewish problem. However, the 1871 Odessa pogrom and those which followed, forced him to re-assess his views. Mere humanism and enlightenment would not defeat anti-Semitism. After visiting Western Europe, he became convinced that Jewish political independence and national consciousness could be achieved only by self-help. His pamphlet, ‘Auto-Emancipation’ published in 1882, asserted that Jewish reliance on the secular power of the State was futile if the social and political grass roots proletariat regarded the Jew as a foreigner, parasite, vagrant, or else a millionaire exploiter of the poor, and without allegiance to any State. He concluded that the root of gentile hatred for the Jews was their lack of a homeland, which by their own efforts and resources could be established either in Palestine or elsewhere.

Under the impetus of his ideas, the first seeds of the Zionist organisation were planted.  In 1884, 36 delegates met in Kattowitz, Germany (today Katowice, Poland) where the group tried to secure financial help from Baron Edmond James de Rothschild and other philanthropists to aid and support Jewish settlements in Eretz Yisrael and to organise educational courses. By 1897 the Odessa Committee counted over 4,000 members - even before Herzl organised the First Zionist Congress, at which the  World Zionist Organization was created – and to which most of the Hovevei Zion societies became affiliated. 

  • BILU

Politics, however, could not be eliminated from Jewish emigration!  1882 saw the organisation of the ‘BILU’ group, its name - a  Hebrew acronym - derived from a verse in the Book of Isaiah (2:5)  "Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Ve-nelkha" ("House of Jacob, let us go [up]"). Comprising fourteen Marxist-influenced Russian ex-university students they emigrated with the purpose of redeeming Eretz Yisrael and re-establishing a Jewish State, by setting up farming cooperatives. With little money and no farming experience they arrived in Palestine in July 1882 with the intention of giving concrete expression to their three basic ideals: national renaissance, migration to Eretz Yisrael and return to the land.

After making an unsuccessful attempt to attend the Jewish farm school in Mikveh Israel, they joined a group of ten Hovevei Zion pioneers who planned to establish an agricultural cooperative, called “Rishon LeZion” (The First to Zion).

The Hovevei Zion had succeeded in acquiring (by way of donation) some 835 acres (3.4 km²) of land southeast of present-day Tel Aviv, near the Arab village of Ayun Kara. The initial combined efforts of the two groups Hovevei Zion and BILU to establish their cooperative failed through lack of farming experience among the settlers, the poor nature of the soil and an almost total absence of water. As a consequence, most of the BILU members left and some returned home.

However, in contrast to other Russian and Rumanian Jewish immigrants, the remnant of the BILU displayed a distinguishing characteristic: their belief in the pre-eminent importance of ideas and organisation and the need to form a party, formulate an explicit ideology, and set an example by implementing their objectives and values through direct action.

Although few members of BILU remained in Eretz Yisrael, their ideas in relation to nationhood, the role of the individual, and their socio-economic objectives left a deep imprint in the collective agricultural kibbutz and moshava movements. These were to be established under the impetus of the political Zionists some fifteen years in the future, and were to be felt throughout the entire history of the Jewish resettlement of Eretz Yisrael, down to 1948 and beyond. 

(see Vital, especially Chapter 4, pp. 65- 108)

  • Rothschild Philanthropic Support

While political leaders appear and disappear from the scene, behind the power of any state its economic substructure exerts a decisive influence. Such was the character of the Rothschild banking influence in France and to a lesser extent in England. In 1875 Lord Nathan Rothschild financed the British Government’s acquisition of control over the Suez Canal. The French branch of the family, headed by Baron James Rothschild (1792-1868), followed by Baron Alphonse Rothschild (1827-1905), rendered vast assistance to the French and other European governments over many years. In particular, their oil investments in Baku and delivery of the oil through the Suez Canal to the Far Eastern markets, gave their financial house considerable influence.

Unlike Alphonse, his younger brother, Baron Edmond James (1835-1934), did not enter the family banking empire. Instead, he devoted himself to art and culture. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, however, he became involved in Jewish land acquisition in Palestine. Motivated by both philanthropy and investment, he responded to calls for financial and technical assistance from the early Hovevei Zion and BILU settlements in Palestine - Rishon LeZion and Zikhron Ya'akov among others.

On the other hand, Baron James did not envisage his philanthropy extending to long-term support for massive Jewish immigration into Eretz Yisrael.

“Although Rothschild was by far the single most important source of funding for the Jewish settlements in Palestine, his intentions were primarily for investment purposes. It was slow steady growth that he looked forward to. Not the mass immigration of millions of "beggars" into an area as crucial to his oil business as the Suez Canal region. Certainly as volatile as Baku, Palestine and the surrounding Moslem areas were susceptible to the same problems of ethnic disruption. An Arab reaction to an influx of "infidel" Jews, carrying with them the disease of western culture would spell disaster for the region's peace.
Clifford Shack,  The Armenian & Jewish Genocide Project that Eliminated the Ethnic Conflict Along the Oil Transport Route From Baku to the Suez Canal Region

Rothschild's patronage was of two types: The first was full support (Rishon LeZion, Zikhron Yaakov, Rosh Pina and Ekron) and the second was partial (Petah Tikvah and others). He became the major address for all problems in the early Jewish rural settlement movement (the ‘Yishuv). His support was implemented by a French authoritarian bureaucracy, whose mentality was alien to the settlers. Bureaucratic dictates did not sit well with the more democratically and communally minded Russian expatriates, who had migrated to escape such officialdom and with which they were unable to work amicably. The level of disharmony was such as to reach the level of revolt in several settlements. It ultimately caused Baron James to transfer control of the twelve settlements managed under his auspices to the Jewish Colonial Association

This type of bureaucratic patronage was the greatest problem of the Jewish settlements during a 20-year period and aroused sharp criticism. In retrospect, however, it is recognized that Rothschild's bureaucracy also played a positive role. It introduced new plant species into Jewish agriculture and instructed the first settlers in the agriculture of the country” (Rochelle Mass, Rothschild Boulevard, )

This notwithstanding, Rothschild played a major role in the development of the wine industry in Eretz Israel. He was a co-sponsor of the Palestine Electric Corporation, the founder of smaller industries and contributed funds to the establishment of the Hebrew University.

While Rothschild was not initially a supporter of the Zionist Organisation under its founder, Theodore Herzl, in later years he grew closer to Organization and participated with the Zionists in preparatory work for the Balfour Declaration.

5. The ‘Dreyfus’ Case: The Catalyst for Political Zionism

In Western Europe, emancipation had failed to eliminate the latent anti-Semitism which prevailed among European gentile bourgeoisie and elites.

Jews who had tried to become assimilated and integrated into the majority culture came to the slow realisation that regardless of their efforts they were still regarded in their host countries as aliens, even if they conformed to the majority culture in their public behaviour.

Independent of the conduct displayed by Jews in public, and beyond their spheres of influence, political events played their part in raising latent West-European anti-Semitism to public awareness. A relatively insignificant incident involving a single Jewish individual, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, had national repercussions in France that shook the Jewish bourgeoisie to its core. The ‘Affair‘ arose out of an unjustified guilty verdict rendered by a French Court Martial against an assimilated and obscure Jewish French Staff officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. The verdict, based on false charges of espionage and forged documents, resulted in Dreyfus’ public humiliation of being stripped of his military rank during which a riotous Parisian mob shouted "Death to the Jews."

If Jews were to retain their integrity, dignity and humanity in a country which hitherto had preached egalitarianism and equality but had failed to live up to its ideals, a solution alternative to assimilation had to be found. Only until the Jews – as a people- recovered or reacquired territory lost after their forced dispersion nearly two millennia earlier, relearned skills long forgotten, and acquired new skills and education commensurate with the needs of a rapidly industrialising and now global society, could they claim equality with other nations and peoples. 

To attain these objectives, Jews as a people needed communal institutions and leadership of a sort different from that which had prevailed in the past; secular leadership capable of confronting and negotiating with the political elites of the period, but also supported by an organisation with adequate finance to implement its new and dramatic policy - finance not only from the wealthy philanthropists, but from the grass roots.

Theodore Herzl emerged as the right man for the right job at the right time as the godfather of political Zionism

6. Jewish - Arab Cultural Relations

a. Ottoman Reaction to Early Jewish Migration to and Land Acquisition in  Palestine

By the 1870’s the Jewish population in Jerusalem was already greater than that of the Muslims and Christians combined. For the first time since the destruction of the Temple, Jews formed a majority in the city. (Morgenstern Chap VIII).  However, by 1881, when the First Aliyah was in its infancy, the Ottomans feared that Jewish immigration to Palestine in an organised fashion would create a potential nationalist problem similar to that which they had experienced in the Bulgarian uprising – an uprising that threatened the multi-ethnic and multi-national character of the Empire. This fear moved the Porte to reverse some of its more liberal immigration and land acquisition policies that benefited the Jews but, in the face of foreign consular opposition, the Ottomans vacillated and retreated. 

In November 1881, however, the Porte closed Palestine to Jewish immigration and then, eighteen months later in March 1883, attempted to limit land acquisition by those Jews who claimed foreign consular protection. Jews who were Ottoman subjects were, for the time being, not so restricted.

By April 1884, Jewish immigration to Palestine was suspended, in the light of a relatively significant number of migrants who arrived without visible means of support. However, between 1887 and 1888, the Porte capitulated under renewed political pressure brought to bear on it by the foreign consular officers, and the suspension on Jewish immigration was lifted, but only for a short period during 1890-1891 when it was again re-imposed.

The Porte attempted to go further in 1892, prohibiting European Jews from acquiring land in Palestine unless they accepted Ottoman citizenship and waived any rights to foreign protection. Again foreign consular pressure brought modification to the restrictions in 1893. (Kark, p.361) Thus matters remained until the turn of the century. Jewish migration slowed to a trickle as foreign philanthropic and institutional financial support waned. Ottoman fears of mass immigration then receded somewhat, because, although Rothschild financial support continued to be forthcoming for the existing Jewish settlements and Arab fellahin continued to be employed by Jewish settlers, Jewish philanthropy did not at the time extend to supporting mass Jewish immigration. In any case, the Sultan had other matters to consider, namely the increasing restlessness of internal political revolutionary movements, which began to evolve at the turn of the century and became full-blown in 1908.  

b. Immigrant Jewish Relations with Arab Fellahin

It is important to bear in mind that, apart from Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927), known better as ‘Ahad Ha’Am,’ – ‘One of the People’ - the immigrants in the First Aliyah were more concerned about their own physical and economic survival than with the impact which their presence might have on the Arab fellah. They relied on the latter’s strength and agricultural experience and were happy to employ him. The main object of the First Aliyah was to escape the pogroms of East Europe and particularly Russia and to find refuge in Eretz Yisrael as part of a Jewish ingathering. It remained for subsequent immigrants to emphasise the necessity for Jews to reconnect with the Land through their own agricultural labour and investment – and to create an ideological issue over whether to rely solely on Jewish labour to the near exclusion of the Arabs and ultimately on how to bring about the establishment of a Jewish national home.

Not all commentators saw Jewish migration to Palestine through the same prism. By way of contrast, Ahad Ha’am, after his visit to Palestine in 1891, reported on the prevalent hunger there, on Arab dissatisfaction and unrest, on unemployment, and on emigration from Palestine. Consequently he advocated the importance of reviving Hebrew and Jewish culture, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. Rather than pushing for an immediate mass Jewish immigration to Palestine, he conceived it as a Jewish cultural centre to which Jews would be attracted gradually over time, until they could assume the burden of building a nation independent of the largesse of outside benefactors.

(Ami Isseroff, ‘Biography - Achad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg) and Cultural Zionism’ )

As long as Jewish migration remained slow and at a relatively low level, Ginsberg envisaged that conflict between Arab and Jew could be avoided.
However, given the potential of mass immigration, his concern lay with the manner in which Jewish settlers related to the Arab population. In an essay entitled ”The Truth from the Land of Israel” Ginsberg warned against the 'great error,' noticeable among Jewish settlers, of treating the fellahin with contempt, of regarding them as savages of the desert, a people similar to a donkey.’

"The Arab, like all Semites, has a sharp mind and is full of cunning ... [They] understand very well what we want and what we do in the country, but ... at present they do not see any danger for themselves or their future in what we are doing and therefore are trying to turn to their advantage these new guests ... But when the day will come in which the life of our people in the Land of Israel will develop to such a degree that they will push aside the local population by little or  by much, then it will not easily give up its place."

As one critic of contemporary Israeli attitudes towards Palestinian Arabs noted:

The behaviour of the immigrants disturbed him. They had not learned from experience as a minority, but, like a slave who has become king, "behave towards the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, infringe upon their boundaries, hit them shamefully without reason, and even brag about it." The Arab did indeed respect strength, but only when the other side used it justly. When his opponent's actions were unjust and oppressive, then "he may keep his anger to himself for a time ... but in the long run he will prove to be vengeful and full of retribution."

Prophetic words!

In 1913, after a correspondent had complained of the contemptuous attitude of settlers and of the Zionist Organisation's Palestine Office, towards the Arab fellah, Ha'am wrote back,

"When I realise that our brethren may be morally capable of treating another people in this fashion and of crudely abusing what is sacred to them, then I cannot but reflect: if such is the situation now, how shall we treat others if one day we actually become the rulers of Palestine?"

(see David J Goldberg,  Prophecy of Retribution The Guardian, Thursday May 29 2008

While this attitude may have been expressed and prevalent at the time, there is no evidence that such conduct was universal. Neither should it be forgotten that the new immigrants, never having being placed in a ‘superior’ position to the indigenous inhabitants, knew nothing better than the Russian conduct to which they had been subjected for centuries. Furthermore, even if they had acted differently towards the Arab fellah, it is unlikely that they could have behaved in a manner consistent with the Arab cultural norms, some of which have been discussed earlier in Chapter II. While subsequent events have shown differing Jewish attitudes towards the Palestinian Arab population, there is little doubt that Jewish expressions of superiority over their Arab neighbours, especially immediately after the 1967 Six Days War, have not been conducive to good relations between Arab and Jew. 

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