"Protest Rabbis" and other Anti-Zionists
As Theodor Herzl's (1860–1904) plans to hold a Zionist congress in Munich became public knowledge in the spring of 1897, a broad front formed in the Jewish population to oppose the plans. On 5 June 1897, a short notice was published in the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten describing the Zionist project as a danger to the integration of Jews into the majority population, and therefore firmly rejecting the holding of the congress in the Bavarian capital.1
This response was motivated to a considerable extent by the fear that holding a first Zionist congress would be interpreted as a demonstration of a separatist, Jewish-nationalist identity, and would thus call into question the achievements of Jewish emancipation and integration. This fear is evidenced not only by the statement of a leading member of the Jewish congregation calling for the planned Zionist congress to be prevented and accusing the Zionist movement of "Wasser auf antisemitische Mühlen zu liefern",2 but also by the arguments of an unnamed Munich Jew, who at the board meeting of the Munich Jewish congregation in June 1897 warned "dass die antisemitische Bewegung durch diesen schlecht vorbereiteten, unzeitgemässen Kongress, der Elemente vereinigen soll, die sich unmöglich auf die Dauer vereinigen lassen … neue Nahrung bekommt".3
What is interesting about this attitude, which was clearly typical of the majority of acculturated Jews at that time, was the reference to an external factor – anti-Semitism – which was cited as an argument against the congress and the Zionist movement as a whole. While one might "manchen Bestrebungen der Zionisten zustimmen"4, one certainly did not wish to endanger one's own livelihood and position in society, which had been hard won. What was viewed by some as pragmatism seemed like opportunism to others.
When in mid-June the board of the Munich Israelite religious congregation wrote to Herzl informing him in no uncertain terms that it rejected and wished to prevent the holding of the congress in Munich,5 the "father" of political Zionism was confronted by another opposition. On 6 July 1897, the board of the Allgemeiner Rabbiner-Verband (General Association of Rabbis) in Germany published a resolution protesting against the Zionist movement. In it, the board not only pointed to the religious law demanding that Jews be loyal to the state in which they live, it also made reference to religious messianism, which contradicts the secular concept of political Zionism.6
From this point on, religious opponents of Zionism in particular explained their categorical rejection of the movement by citing the theologically based accusation that political Zionism was attempting to pre-empt the coming of the Messiah and the re-establishment of a Jewish state that was expected to go with it by establishing a Jewish homeland itself. In the opinion of these opponents, the Zionists were acting against the messianic faith of Judaism. Redemption by the hand of God was to be replaced by a redemption brought about by man. To Jews, the Diaspora with all its negative consequences had been the work of God. Anyone who attempted to remove this condition, as the Zionists did, was attempting to thwart the will of God and was therefore committing blasphemy.
The Jewish nationalist movement subsequently became established on the international level with the active participation of Jews from all over the world – delegates from no less than 14 states took part in the first congress, which finally took place in Basel. But this was no less true of the opponents of the movement. For example, soon after the resolution of the German "protest rabbis" – as Herzl referred to them – the Orthodox chief rabbi of Britain, Hermann Adler (1839–1911) (who had himself been born in Germany), expressed his agreement with the fundamental rejection of Zionism expressed by his colleagues in Germany. For Adler, Herzl's intention to found a Jewish state was "völlig unheilbringend" (completely disastrous). It was not only "gegen die jüdischen Grundsätze, gegen die Lehren der Propheten und die Traditionen des Judenthums", but could also "unermeßliches Unheil erzeugen" because it could prompt non-Jews to think that Jews were not loyal to the country in which they lived.7
Two years previously, Eugen Fuchs (1856–1923), the vice-chairman of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith – which according to its constitution was committed to the maintenance of the civil and social equality of German Jews and the cultivation of their German patriotism – had explained the attitude of his organization toward Zionism in similar terms. Fuchs accused Zionism, as a Jewish nationalist movement, of attempting to de-nationalize German Jews and, therefore, of calling into question the allegiance which they felt to the German nation.8 This argument clearly demonstrates that Fuchs only viewed Judaism as a confession, and rejected any suggestion that it constituted a nation. From the Jewish nationalist perspective, this was the highest and worse form of assimilation.9
In some instances, Jews of various religious currents rejected political Zionism for different reasons. But, in broader terms, Zionism as an "international nationalism"10 faced an opposition that was also international and transnational.11
Anti-Zionist Organizations of Liberal and Reform-minded Jews in Germany and Britain
First, we will look at the main anti-Zionist organizations that emerged from liberal and reform-minded Jewish circles. Germany and Austria in particular were not only the "birthplace of modern Zionism", but also the "birthplace of liberal anti-Zionism ".12 It was around the end of the First World War that the focus of Zionist and anti-Zionist activity shifted to Britain and subsequently to the USA.
The Anti-Zionist Committee in the German Empire
In October 1912, the Reichsverband zur Bekämpfung des Zionismus (National Federation for Combatting Zionism) was established in Germany in the office of the Vereinigung für das liberale Judentum (Association for Liberal Judaism). A short time later, it was renamed the Antizionistisches Komitee (AZK) (Anti-Zionist Committee).13 This loose association soon had an impressive base of supporters, a portion of whom came from the liberal-minded Jewish public.14 The foundation of the AZK was presumably a reaction to the first Zionist electoral success in the Jewish congregation in Königsberg in February 1912,15 which had echoed the motto put forward by Herzl at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898: "Conquer the congregations".
The AZK was to engage in two main types of activity. Firstly, it was to publish anti-Zionist writings and declarations, which were intended to inform the Jewish and non-Jewish public of the perceived dangers of Zionism. Secondly, it was to inform and influence important opinion makers in line with its own aims. Thus, it was the stated intention to form a "Spezial-Kommission, bestehend aus jüdischen Oberlehrern und Religionslehrern ... deren Aufgabe es sein soll, die Jugend über die Gefahren des Zionismus aufzuklären und das Eindringen der Zionisten in die Schule zu verhüten". Additionally, for the purpose of the "Ausbildung von Propagandisten ... jüngere Akademiker, insbesondere auch Anwälte und Aerzte" were to be invited to a meeting with a leading representative of the AZK.16 The "Discussionskursus" (course of discussions) set up by Rabbi Dr. Siegfried Galliner (1875–1960), which six young men participated in, was almost certainly set up with a similar goal in mind.17
As regards cooperation with other opponents of Zionism, the AZK had agreed that it would connect with "anderen Organisationen, die auf antizionistischem Boden stehen" but it would not enter into a "gemeinsam[es] Vorgehen".18 At the same time, the AZK sought to expand its own membership base towards religious Jews through the "Heranziehung mehr konservativer Kreise" (recruitment of more conservative circles).19 This was presumably motivated by the fear that the Zionists would label the AZK an organization for Jews who were keen to assimilate, thereby suggesting that it was disconnected from all things Jewish and, thus, delegitimizing it.
In early 1913, just a few months after the foundation of the AZK, it published its first pamphlet intended to inform the public about Zionism. It focused on Zionist tactics. This pamphlet, of which about 45,000 copies were distributed up to July 1913,20 was written by the writer and theatre critic Julius Bab (1880–1955), though he was not named as the author in the publication. Bab described the Zionist project as being in every respect unrealistic and logically inconsistent.21
Shortly after the first anti-Zionist publication had appeared, the second and last independent publication of the AZK was published. It had been written by Rabbi Felix Goldmann (1882–1934)22, though it too was published anonymously.23 It was primarily the lack of financial means that prevented the series Schriften zur Aufklärung über den Zionismus being continued. From this point on, the AZK concentrated on publishing anti-Zionist statements in newspapers. For example, in 1913 the AZK published an appeal, in which it stressed that German Jews were a part of German culture, German society, and even the German fatherland itself, while also warning against the Zionist movement, which it argued seriously endangered the steps towards emancipation that German Jews had achieved to date by viewing German Jews – similar to the anti-Semites – as "Fremdlinge" (foreigners) within the fatherland. In truth, the article continued, German Jews are "deutsche Bürger … nach Sprache, Kultur, Bildung und Heimatgefühl".24
The accusation contained in the same appeal that the Zionists lacked patriotism with regard to the German fatherland was a serious one. In late July 1913, the newspaper of the Zionist movement in the German empire, the Jüdische Rundschau, was forced to issue a response to this accusation, in which it emphasized the love that Zionists felt for German culture and Germany.25
It was not only Zionists in Germany who took note of the appeal of the AZK. An English Zionist from London called Henry Samuel discussed the "statement" of the AZK in a letter to Leo Wolff (1870–1958), one of the leading figures of the AZK.26 First, Samuel argued that Wolff would hardly have signed the appeal of the AZK if he had been more familiar with the efforts of the Zionist movement and if he had engaged more closely with the accusations against the movement contained in the statement of the AZK. Samuel explained that he had just returned from the Zionist Congress in Vienna, which he had attended "als erst kürzlich zum Zionismus gelangter englischer Jude und Kolonisationsmann und als Delegierter des Order of Ancient Maccabeans".27 He stated that he was "nüchtern und sachlich genug veranlagt" to maintain a "kritisches Gefühl für zahlreiche Haupt- und Nebensachen des Kongresses sowohl wie der zionistischen Taktik und Praxis", but no Jew could seriously deny "dass die von den Zionisten proponierte Lösung der Frage eine grosse und durchführbare, hilfreiche Sache ist, der kein edler Jude seine Mitarbeit und Sympathie versagen sollte, und die andererseits keinen einzigen Juden in seinen sozialen, wirtschaftlichen und staatsbürgerlichen Beziehungen zu beeinträchtigen vermag". To add weight to his pro-Zionist arguments, Samuel went on to point out that the Jewish people were a transnational people, and were therefore clearly different to other confessions and peoples:
Wir sind jüdischen Blutes und jüdischen Stammes! Diese Tatsache, auf die wir so stolz sein dürfen wie irgend eine andere Gemeinschaft auf ihre Herkunft, lässt sich nicht verwischen, wie heftig auch der antizionistische Aufruf die deutschen Juden nach Kultur und Sprache und Nationalgefühl für das Deutschtum (fast für das Cheruskertum) reklamieren möchte. Ein einfaches Beispiel, das mir besonders naheliegt: Sind nicht die deutschen und englischen Juden in einem ganz anderen Sinne Brüder, als die deutschen und englischen Christen? Darüber hilft kein Jonglieren mit so strittigen Begriffen wie Volk, Nation oder dergleichen hinweg.
Samuel further states that the Zionist goals are very much achievable and a start has already been made towards realising them. Samuel refers skilfully to the passage in the statement of the AZK which states that the "Berechtigung kolonisatorischer Bestrebungen im Interesse der östlichen Juden" could not be denied, but was recognized "von den Juden aller Richtungen". Here Samuel asks Leo Wolff "[seine] eigene Unterschrift [zu] respektieren", also offering to place at Wolff's disposal his "nicht unbeträchtliche kolonisatorische Erfahrung … in gemeinsamer Arbeit zu Gunsten unserer verfolgten und zurückgesetzten Brüder", through which Wolff might "vielleicht auch vieles andere schätzen lernen" that he had disliked about the Zionist movement up till then.28 It is very doubtful that these arguments and this offer led to a change of heart on the part of Wolff and other representatives of the AZK. Other signatories to the appeal of the AZK, such as James Simon (1851–1932) and Paul Nathan (1857–1927), had not only already supported eastern European Jews through the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden that they had established in 1901, but had also supported a network of pedagogical institutions in Palestine. This type of assistance was, of course, primarily philanthropic in nature, and in no way political. Support for the colonising efforts of eastern European Jews therefore did not automatically imply support for political Zionism.
On 29 January 1914, leading figures in the AZK, including Bernhard Breslauer (1851–1928), Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), Eugen Katz, James Simon and Hermann Veit Simon (1856–1914), wrote to various prominent Jewish figures with the instruction that the correspondence should remain "strictly confidential". They requested that the latter put their signatures to a statement that would be published in the most respected newspapers. This statement would warn the public against the "Gefahr des zionistischen Treibens in Deutschland".29 On 5 February 1914, a so-called "statement" (Erklärung) of the AZK was published in Rudolf Mosse's (1843–1920) Berliner Tageblatt, though the statement was not attributed to the AZK itself. Only the names of individual members of the AZK were listed underneath, including such well-known figures as Rudolf Mosse, Hermann Cohen, James Simon, Paul Nathan and Ludwig Geiger (1848–1919). "Expressions of agreement" were invited, to be sent to the lawyer Dr. M. Galliner. The address given for him was the address of the AZK. In the "statement", the Zionists were primarily accused of "innerhalb des Judentums einen 'national-jüdischen' Chauvinismus … entfachen [zu wollen], der uns in schroffen Gegensatz zu unseren christlichen deutschen Mitbürgern bringen müsste, von denen uns doch nichts unterscheidet als unser Glaube". As a result of this, it was no longer possible to work together with the Zionists to protect the interest of the Jewish people. The Jewish people of Germany were deeply divided, the statement continued, and the responsibility for this lay with the Zionists.30
This newspaper notice caused great consternation at the main publication of the Zionist movement, the Jüdische Rundschau. The fact that the AZK had turned to the non-Jewish public in an attempt to discredit Zionism was considered particularly shocking.31 In doing so, the AZK had clearly hit a particularly sensitive spot of the Zionist association. Statements of protest were hurriedly sent to Jewish and non-Jewish print media, and the Jüdisches Echo in Munich, which was sympathetic to Zionism, quickly organized a survey among prominent non-Jews regarding their attitude to Zionism and the "statement" of the AZK.32 The Zionists took the accusation of a lack of loyalty towards their German fatherland and German society particularly seriously, and they sought to counteract it through propagandistic countermeasures.33
From this point on, the campaign of the AZK against Zionism primarily centred around the accusation that the latter lacked loyalty to the state. At a committee meeting of the AZK in early May 1915, Bernhard Breslauer expressed the opinion that it seemed that the "ruhigeren Elemente im Zionismus ihren Einfluss geltend machen" and the Zionist press had also become more moderate. However, he continued, the Zionists continued to vigorously attack the AZK, "mit dem man unter keinen Umständen Frieden machen wolle". For these reasons, Breslauer opened a discussion on the AZK producing a new pamphlet, which among other things was to include an article on "Die jüdische Jugend und der Zionismus". A Mr Holzmann commented that this pamphlet must "an Tatsachen [zeigen], in welcher Weise das zionistische Gift in die Seelen der Kinder geträufelt werde".34
At the same time – in May 1914 – the Anti-Zionist Committee (AZK) was preparing for publication a pamphlet that was to have the title Die zionistische Utopie. The main argument of this publication centred around the "emancipation contract". A century earlier, it argued, Jews had obtained civil rights in Germany and in the intervening period had proved that they were "der Gleichberechtigung würdig" (deserving of equality). However, it continued, "alle unsere Hoffnungen und Wünsche" (all our hopes and wishes) have not yet been fulfilled, making further efforts in this area necessary, which all of the large Jewish organizations were engaged in, except for one. In recent times, it continued, a group within the Jewish community – this clearly referred to the Zionists – had "diesen Kampf um die volle Gleichberechtigung aufgegeben und ihre Ziele ausserhalb des deutschen Vaterlandes gesucht". This organization was now attempting to alienate the Jews from German society and was even arguing in favour of resettlement in Palestine. These efforts of the "Jewish nationalist group", the planned pamphlet argued, may "für die Ostjuden vielleicht in gewissem Umfange ihre Berechtigung haben", but were "für die deutschen [sic!] Juden eine Gefahr, der mit aller Energie entgegengetreten werden muss".35
On 24 August 1914, about three weeks after the outbreak of the war, the well-known artist and religious Zionist Hermann Struck (1876–1944) referred in private correspondence with his cousin Leo Wolff, a leading member of the AZK, to the impressive participation of Zionists in the German war effort, as a result of which he suspected "dass die höchsten Regierungsbehörden die Zionisten als durchaus vollwertige, wenn nicht sogar als besonders wertvolle Staatsbürger ansehen". Since this – Struck implied – undermined the accusation made by the AZK that German Zionists lacked patriotism, it was perhaps time to dissolve this committee that was directed against the Zionist movement.36 Struck attached to his letter a draft dissolution statement for the AZK.37
Hermann Struck's letter clearly gave Leo Wolff pause for thought, and he considered dissolving the AZK. He seems to have suggested this to Bernhard Breslauer in early September, though the latter did not greet the suggestion with enthusiasm. In his opinion, Struck's statements were not at all true. According to Breslauer, the Zionists continued to adhere "mit eiserner Consequenz" to the "Scheidung zwischen Judentum und Deutschtum".38 The AZK had nonetheless ceased its activities of its own accord at the outbreak of war. But this had been to no avail, according to Breslauer. The AZK was still being attacked by Zionists, who twisted the truth. Breslauer reminded Wolff that the AZK was not itself engaged in attacks, but was only protecting itself against the attacks of the Zionists. Breslauer was of the opinion that issuing a public "declaration of peace" at this point would only cause harm, and called for this suggestion to be ignored. However, he left it up to Wolff to decide whether to convene a meeting of the members of the AZK or not. Due to the death of Hermann Veit Simon, the AZK had no chairman at that time.39
While the AZK could not bring itself to issue an official "peace declaration", its controversies with Zionists were largely dropped from the outbreak of the war. Leading Zionists had after all committed themselves to protecting the interests of the German empire and were working towards that end. Since, as Breslauer once noted, "eine feste Organisation, die dem Einzelnen Rechte und Pflichten erteilt, nicht besteht",40 the loose cooperation that had sustained the AZK soon disintegrated. One of the main reasons for this was undoubtedly the chronic lack of funds, which now precluded any further propaganda work in the form of the publication of anti-Zionist writings.41 While just a few months before the outbreak of the war the AZK had had more than 1,000 members, many of whom could be considered wealthy, very few of them were prepared to provide the kind of funding needed to sustain the activities of the AZK.42
After the war, the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden (VnJ) (Federation of Patriotic German Jews) assumed the "Vorreiterrolle als Wortführer des Antizionismus".43 While there was undoubtedly some continuity of personnel between the two associations, the VnJ was by no means a successor organization of the AZK. While for the AZK anti-Zionism was – as its name suggested – the main motivating factor, anti-Zionism was no longer the sole central focus in the agenda of the VnJ.44 A deep-seated anti-Zionism could nonetheless be observed in the VnJ at times of greatest danger for Jewish people in Germany, such as after Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) came to power. On 18 July 1933, the chairman of the VnJ, Dr. Max Naumann (1875–1939), wrote a letter to the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (National Representation of German Jews), which was in the process of forming at that time, complaining about its choice of name. In his view, the chosen name created the impression that this organ "in dem vorwiegend und massgebend Zionisten vertreten sind, … berechtigt sei, für die Gesamtheit der deutschen Juden Erklärungen abzugeben".45
Between Anti- and Non-Zionism: The League of British Jews
The shift of focus of both Zionist and anti-Zionist activities to Britain after the end of the First World War was undoubtedly due to the Balfour Declaration (and the conquest of Palestine by British troops). On 2 November 1917, the British foreign minister, Lord Arthur James Balfour (1848–1930), had declared in a letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868–1937), the honorary president of the Zionist Federation, that His Majesty's government looked favourably on the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine and would make great efforts to achieve this goal.46 However, in order not to expose Jews to the accusation of divided loyalty, additional provisions were added to the Balfour Declaration stating that nothing should be done to undermine the rights and the political status of Jews in other countries. Additionally, provisions were added to the declaration stating that the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine could not be infringed, a qualification that was added in consideration of the Arab population living in the Holy Land.
The protection clauses contained in the Balfour Declaration did not, however, placate the opponents of Zionism. In their reactions, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists made it clear they rejected the proposed draft – which was subsequently largely adopted – because they fundamentally rejected the establishment of a so-called "national home in Palestine".47 In view of the fact that the Zionist project was now no longer solely in the realm of wishful thinking, liberal-minded Jewish anti-Zionists were very alarmed. Only twelve days after the pro-Zionist declaration of the British government was made public, the League of British Jews (LBJ) was formed under the leadership of Lionel de Rothschild,48 Sir Philip Magnus (1842–1933) and Louis Samuel Montagu, 2nd Baron Swaythling (1869–1927). Its aim was to combat Jewish nationalism. Similar to the leading figures of the AZK in Germany, most of the leading representatives of the LBJ came from the highest ranks of society and supported a liberal Judaism. In spite of its very wealthy and influential leadership, its membership remained comparatively small. Initially, the League had about 400 supporters, and even during its period of greatest activity it never had more than 1,300 active members, according to its own figures.
The programme of the LBJ included the commitment of the organization to a purely confessional position and to the campaign against the creation of a separate Jewish nationality on a political basis. However, it also stated that all Jews who wished to settle permanently in Palestine should receive assistance.49 Thus, the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Israel50 was not called into question, but the foundation of a separate Jewish state was categorically rejected.
The passage concerning promoting the Yishuv is an indication that the Leaguers – as they referred to themselves – did not necessarily reject the Balfour Declaration outright. But instead of the phrase "a national home for the Jewish people", they would have preferred the wording "a home for Jewish people", which represented an important difference for them, as they rejected everything that had the scent of Jewish nationalism on it. Accordingly, they attempted to interpret the Balfour Declaration in line with their own emancipation ideology, which, of course, excluded Jewish nationalist ambitions.
Like liberal Jews in other countries, the LBJ defined Judaism exclusively as a religious community, which no longer contained any ethnic Jewish attributes. The LBJ nonetheless adopted a position between anti-Zionism and non-Zionism that was hard to define. Leaguers did not even reject the creation of a state in Palestine, but just one that was avowedly Jewish in character.51 Thus, as the British government gradually backed away from its original pro-Zionist stance after 1918, this was greeted with great enthusiasm by the League. This trend culminated in 1922 with the Churchill White Paper, which repeated the promise of the Balfour Declaration, but interpreted it in a much more moderate way. The changing attitude of the British government led to the Zionist leadership also adopting a much more moderate approach and accepting the new policy of the government. This resulted in a degree of reconciliation between Zionism and its opponents, and even in cooperation between them. The extend of this new cooperation was demonstrated by Sir Philip Magnus announcing his decision to make a donation to the Balfour Forest of the Jewish National Fund in Palestine.52 And this was no exception. There were many such instances of members of the LBJ or prominent figures connected to it participating in the economic development of the Mandate territory. The reconciliation between Zionists and non-Zionists reached an initial high point when Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952) offered non-Zionists in Britain and in other countries the opportunity of participating in an expanded Jewish Agency – an organization dominated by Zionists that liaised with the British government on Jewish interests in Palestine.53 After the 15th Zionist Congress had accepted this offer in September 1927, the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the main representative body of British Jews and British Jewish congregations and organizations, which overlapped with the LBJ considerably in terms of personnel and ideology – also accepted the offer a year and a half later. While the LBJ was not officially dissolved, in reality it ceased its activities after the compromise regarding the Jewish Agency in 1929, and from that point on it only existed on paper.54
Of course, the expansion of the Jewish Agency to give it the same number of non-Zionist members by no means eliminated fundamental differences. At best, it pushed them into the future. While the development and expansion of settlement in Palestine was a political matter for Zionists, and was intended to ultimately lead to the creation of a Jewish state, for most non-Zionists, who continued to define Jews as a confessional community and therefore rejected the idea of a future Jewish state, assistance in Palestine was strictly philanthropic in nature.55 The real significance of the participation of non-Zionists in the Jewish Agency was therefore more on the symbolic level than on the functional level: "It demonstrated to the British government and public a degree of Jewish solidarity over the question of Palestine which had hitherto not existed."56 When Arab unrest broke out in the Mandate territory in August 1929 and claimed Jewish casualties, not only Zionists, but also non-Zionists were outraged, and to the same degree. Similarly, both rejected the Passfield White Paper when it was published one year later. The paper stated that Jewish immigration into the Mandate territory and the acquisition of land by Jews there was contrary to both Arab and British interests, and should therefore be restricted.
From about the mid-1930s, however, the relationship between Zionists and non-Zionists in the expanded Jewish Agency increasingly deteriorated. David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), who was president of the Jewish Agency from 1935 onward, seriously called into question the compromise of having equal representation of Zionists and non-Zionists in the Agency. In response, leading non-Zionists started to speak of "Gleichschaltung" and "totalitarianism".57 A bitter controversy also arose regarding the World Jewish Congress (WJC) established in 1936, which exhibited a clear Zionist tendency from the start. While the Zionist organization acted as though it represented the Jewish people with regard to Palestine, the WJC sought international recognition as a "repräsentative Körperschaft der jüdischen Gesamtheit in Angelegenheiten, die sich auf das jüdische Leben in der Diaspora [bezogen]."58 This again raised the fundamental question of whether Jews were a nation or only a community of coreligionists with different citizenships. Consistent with their viewpoint, leading non-Zionists – particularly Neville Jonas Laski (1892–1969), who shortly before this had been replaced as chairman of the administrative committee of the Jewish Agency in controversial fashion – vehemently refused to participate in a Jewish organization such as the WJC, which claimed to represent the entire Jewish population worldwide.59 In the following year, cooperation between Zionists and non-Zionists was seriously called into question. This was prompted by the report of the Royal Palestine Commission, which under the chairmanship of Earl William Robert Wellesley Peel (1867–1937) had made the suggestion in July 1937 that, in view of the irreconcilable differences between Jews and Arabs, Palestine should be divided, and both a Jewish and an Arab state (connected with Transjordan) should be established.60 While for non-Zionists the partition of Palestine and the foundation of a Jewish state were out of the question, Zionists viewed the suggested plan of the Peel Commission as at least a basis for further negotiations. The Zionist organization now changed its strategy and focused its efforts again on achieving Jewish statehood. Not least to sideline internal-Jewish opposition to this, the organization tried at the same time to gain a dominant position on the Board of Deputies of British Jews.61 There were again echoes of Herzl's motto "conquer the congregations".
A Zionist "conquest of the congregations" was far from unrealistic. Similar to the USA, from the 1920s and particularly from the 1930s – with the seizure of power by the National Socialists in Germany – Zionism had increasingly gained ground in the Jewish community in Britain. The Zionist movement proved particularly attractive – here too there were clear parallels with the USA – among the younger generation of Jews whose parents had emigrated to Great Britain. Simultaneously, as already described in relation to the foundation and history of the LBJ, the position of many former anti-Zionists softened to become a non-Zionist position, which meant that cooperation with Zionists on particular issues was now possible.
The fact that the partition plan for Palestine drafted by the Peel Commission did not lead to a rupture between Zionists and non-Zionists in the expanded Jewish Agency was due mainly to the British government, which quickly withdrew its suggestion and ultimately reformulated its policy regarding the Mandate territory of Palestine in 1939 in the so-called White Paper. Both Zionists and non-Zionists were equally alarmed that the government now envisaged the foundation of an independent Palestinian state within the next ten years, that it intended to make the acquisition of land by Jews more difficult, that it intended to limit the immigration of Jews to a maximum of 75,000 in the next five years, and that it intended to make further Jewish immigration thereafter dependent on Arab consent.62
But just a few months later, cooperation between Zionists and non-Zionists received a further serious blow. Primarily out of fear of the considerable influence that leading non-Zionists had with British politicians on the Palestine question, under the leadership of Lavy Bakstansky, the general secretary of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, the first step was taken in the Zionist conquest of British Jewish congregations. In December 1939, Selig Brodetsky (1888–1954) became the first avowed Zionist and eastern European Jew to be president of the Board of Deputies.63 Three and a half years later – in July 1943 – the takeover of this former bastion of non-Zionism was completed. With a wafer-thin majority of six votes, the 65-year-long cooperation with the Anglo-Jewish Association, which manifested itself in the so-called Conjoint Foreign Committee, was discontinued, and three weeks later a Zionist majority was voted onto all committees of the Board of Deputies.64 In this way, the British Zionist Federation, and in particular its very active general secretary Bakstansky, sought to ensure that the official voice of British Jews would henceforth speak with one voice in favour of the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine, and would thus influence the policy of the British government to this end.65 In November 1944, the Board of Deputies issued a statement on post-war policy, in which it very clearly called for the White Paper of 1939 to be withdrawn and demanded that, after a transition phase, the Mandate territory become the territory of a Jewish state or commonwealth.66 The remaining opposition left in the Board of Deputies demanded that the statement be changed and all mention of a state or a commonwealth be removed. However, only ten percent of the delegates supported this motion.67 At this point, the time had come for the minority of avowed anti-Zionists in Great Britain to get organized and actively oppose Zionism and the foundation of a Jewish state.
The Last Anti-Zionist Contingent: The Jewish Fellowship in Great Britain
While the Jewish Fellowship (JF) was a direct successor of the League of British Jews (LBJ), there is nonetheless no doubt that the JF was primarily based on the strictly anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism68 (ACJ), which was dominated by liberal American Jews. The supporters of the ACJ not only came from a similar background and had similar viewpoints, but they also had the same goals and the same methods.69 Here, in particular, the transnational aspect of organized anti-Zionism became very apparent. However, while the ACJ actively sought to establish links with the anti-Zionists and non-Zionists in Britain, the British JF was very keen to avoid being associated with the so-called "bitter-enders" in the USA. The JF also wanted to avoid the accusation that its primary aim was to revive the LBJ.70 It was particularly difficult to avoid the latter accusation given that the founders and board members of the JF were to a large degree the sons and relatives of figures who had founded and supported the LBJ.71
In September 1944, two leading representatives of the emerging JF had written to The Times and had made their opposition to the formation of a Jewish Brigade clear. This was not only the first attempt of the organization to make use of non-Jewish media outlets to oppose Zionism,72 it also demonstrates that the issue of Jewish fighting units being formed to fight against the Axis powers played a similarly important role in the foundation of the JF in Britain, as it did in the case of the ACJ in the USA.
A little more than a month later, on 7 November 1944, the same day that the British minister Lord Walter Edward Guinness Moyne (1880–1944) was murdered in Cairo by Zionist extremists (Lechi),73 the JF held a press conference, in which it announced its existence to the public. In the view of the representatives of the JF, the murder of Lord Moyne by Jews in the name of Zionism was symptomatic of the perversion and spiritual degeneration of Judaism that manifested itself in the efforts of Zionists to achieve statehood.74 Similar to the ACJ, the JF rejected political Zionism and the foundation of a Jewish state because it would create a divided loyalty for Jews living in the Diaspora. This divided loyalty – it was argued – would not only call into question the successes of the emancipation and integration processes, but would also result in an increase in anti-Semitism.
Like the ACJ in the Jewish population in the US, the JF, which initially primarily campaigned for a renewal of liberal Judaism, remained largely isolated and without influence among the British Jewish population in spite of its vigorous media campaign. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the Zionists, whose support among the Jewish population had risen considerably, succeeded in creating the impression among most Jews that the organization directed against them was not aimed at renewing Jewish life, but destroying it. Secondly, in view of the White Paper of 1939 and the scale of the Holocaust, the way the JF openly opposed Zionist efforts in the non-Jewish public was strongly rejected and viewed as a betrayal of the Jewish people.75
The overwhelming majority of British Jews identified with the traditional form of Orthodox Judaism. Consequently, Zionist attacks on the JF in the media concentrated on highlighting the obvious close links and personnel overlap between progressive, liberal Judaism and the JF, in order to delegitimize the JF.76 The JF repeatedly correctly emphasized that it was not only liberal Jews who were involved in the organization, but also traditional-minded Jews.77 But these efforts were in vain: "[T]he overriding impression within Jewry throughout these years was that the Fellowship was an anti-Zionist body motivated in part by its relationship with Liberal Judaism."78 Thus, the tactic of the Zionist press of depicting the JF as an organization of progressive Judaism in order to tap into widespread prejudices against this religious trend within the British Jewish population was successful.79
Even though the JF claimed that it did not wish to be active in the political sphere, but only in the religious sphere, it nonetheless became the most powerful opponent of the Zionist organization in Great Britain.80 However, leading Zionists were not so much afraid that the JF would organize Jewish opposition to Zionism as that the non-Jewish establishment might be swayed against Zionist efforts in the decisive phase when the fate of Palestine and a Jewish state was being decided. The events leading up to the Balfour Declaration, when anti-Zionist British Jews purportedly succeeded in having the declaration "watered down", haunted some Zionists.81
The JF was fully isolated within the British Jewish community similar to the ACJ within the Jewish community in the US – at no point did the JF have more than 2,000 members.82 However, it was by no means irrelevant in the non-Jewish environment. Between 1936 and 1948, as a final decision on the fate of the British Mandate territory of Palestine was taking shape, there were no less than seven different political organizations in London that were committed to opposing Zionism and defending Arab interests.83 Cooperation between the JF and one or more of these not inconsequential entities could under certain circumstances have inflicted serious damage on the ambitions of the Zionists.
From January 1946, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry conducted its work. This commission established by the governments of the US and Great Britain consisting of six representatives from both states had the task of investigating conditions in Palestine as regards the immigration and settlement of Jews, as well as the circumstances of Jewish "displaced persons" (DPs) in Europe. In the course of its work, it also heard submissions from the two anti-Zionist organizations – the ACJ and the JF. The representatives of these two organizations stressed their fundamental rejection of the foundation of a Jewish state on the basis that it would put Jews of the Diaspora in an untenable position with respect to their non-Jewish compatriots, and it would give new momentum to anti-Semitism. Instead, they recommended that those Jews who – for whatever reason – wished to leave their current home country should be given the option of settling in other countries, including Palestine.84 It would thus be helpful, as Lessing Rosenwald (1891–1979) stated on behalf of the ACJ, if the United Nations would hold a conference on the question of Jewish refugees. Rosenwald was thus primarily eager to see as few Jewish DPs as possible emigrating to Palestine. His response to the suggestion of allowing 100,000 Jews to emigrate to the Mandate territory immediately was anything but enthusiastic. In his opinion, this would very probably result in violence.
The recommendations of the ACJ and the JF on how to solve the problem of Jewish DPs largely corresponded at least in substance with the position of the Arab representatives who appeared before the commission.85 However, the informal alliance between anti-Zionist Jewish organizations and Arab representatives that emerged in this context had no effect. In contradiction of the White Paper of 1939, the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry recommended in its report of 20 April 1946 that 100,000 Jews who had survived the Holocaust and the war should be allowed to emigrate to Palestine immediately. The commission had thus adopted the demands of Zionists in the USA, Great Britain and Palestine, and ultimately suggested dropping the restrictions contained in the White Paper of 1939.86
Like the representatives of the JF, it now occurred to activists of pro-Arab organizations to suggest that a certain number of Jewish DPs should be allowed into Britain in order to prevent the emigration of Jews to Palestine, as had been suggested in the report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. The representatives of the Committee for Arab Affairs agreed to issue a public statement in which they would reject Palestine taking 100,000 Jews as a humanitarian gesture, and would instead call on the British government to lead by example and take in an appropriate contingent of 100,000 Jews who did not wish to remain in, or return to, their country of origin. However, the attempt to formulate this statement demonstrated that the pro-Arab establishment was anything but united. Many of its active representatives who rejected the emigration of Jews to Palestine were just as reluctant to accept the immigration of Jewish refugees into Britain because – due in part to their anti-Semitic outlook – they viewed it as harmful.87 Additionally, they failed to recognize that the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry had suggested the resettlement of 100,000 Jews in the British Mandate territory merely as part of an overall solution to the question of Jewish DPs, in order to provide relief.88
A further area of consensus between the JF and the pro-Arab anti-Zionist organizations in Great Britain lay in the belief that it was possible to rebuild Jewish life in Germany and Poland, thereby providing at least a partial solution to the question of Jewish refugees. Here too, the motivation behind the suggestion was to obviate the need for the migration of Jews to Palestine by providing alternatives. However, in its views on this issue, the JF was isolated among the British Jewish population. Other Jewish organizations and representatives of the Jewish community in Britain viewed the chances of rebuilding Jewish life in the two countries referred to as extremely remote.89
Finally, a further area of consensus between the JF and the pro-Arab associations in their media battle against Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine is worthy of mention: equating Zionism with National Socialism. According to this argument, the Zionists had adopted the fundamental assumptions of the race theory of the Nazis and were now themselves applying racist and fascist methods. On the one hand, this equating of Zionism with National Socialism brought the JF even closer to non-Jewish anti-Zionist organizations, but on the other hand it only increased the isolation of the JF within the British Jewish population, as even non-Zionists were outraged by the comparison.90
In spite of an extensive overlap in content between the JF and the pro-Arab organizations, there was no formal cooperation between the two anti-Zionist camps. Though the JF constantly sought such cooperation, it was rejected by the leading non-Jewish anti-Zionists of the time.91 To this extent, the JF had failed across the board. Only half a year after the foundation of the state of Israel, the fourth annual general assembly of the JF in November 1948 agreed by a majority decision of the board to dissolve the organization.
Anti-Zionist Organizations among Traditional-minded Jews
As proto-Zionist ideas were expressed for the first time in the 1860s and 1870s, there were scarcely any protests from the traditional Jewish communities in eastern Europe. Neo-Orthodox Jews in western Europe were the only traditional-minded Jews who expressed opposition to the articulation of Jewish nationalist ideas. They viewed them as a threat to the integration of the Jews into the majority society. They also feared the secular nature of the concept, which might affect religiosity and observance within Judaism.92
Numerous pogroms in the Russian empire in the early 1880s brought many maskilim (supporters of the Jewish Enlightenment movement) to the view that the process of emancipation and integration had failed. As a result, part of the Haskalah (the Jewish enlightenment movement) turned to nationalism. The response to this among traditional-minded Jews was by no means an immediate rejection of Jewish nationalism or proto-Zionism. On the contrary, both sides drew similar conclusions from the pogroms: salvation through migration to Palestine (or another country). It was only the realisation that a casual attitude towards religious observance was very common among emigrant groups in Palestine – particularly the Bilu'im93 – that gave rise to the earliest resistance among traditional-minded Jews in the Russian empire. This did not, however, prevent the Orthodox rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824–1898) from participating in the founding of the first proto-Zionist organization in the Russian empire in Kattowitz in 1884, which was known as Hovevei Zion (Friends of Zion). However, the fact that this new organization was led by secular Jews such as the Odessa doctor and author of the pamphlet Autoemancipation!, Dr. Leon Pinsker (1821–1891), was to have consequences: "[S]ome rabbis who had been willing to take part in Hovevei Zion activities left the movement en masse."94
After traditional-minded Jews were granted a disproportionately high representation in the Hovevei Zion movement at the conference in Druzkieniki in 1887, some important religious figures were prepared to support the organization. However, one problem remained unresolved and throughout the 1880s it held the potential to cause a rupture between the two camps: the lack of religious observance among Jews who had emigrated to the Holy Land. This circumstance and the issue of the observance of the Shmita, the sabbatical year, increasingly provoked the opposition of leading traditional-minded Jews in the Russian empire.95 The problem of messianism, that is, the question whether Jewish nationalist efforts were pre-empting divine providence, did not play a significant role in the oppositional attitude of traditional-minded Jews at this time.
Thus, conflicts initially revolved around the specific behaviour of particular figures and groups within the organization. However, the view expressed by Ahad Ha'am (1856–1927) that religion was only a national institution of Judaism, but the national spirit of the Jewish people was its dominant force, from which everything else came – this developed into a fundamental disagreement. The fact that religious faith and the rules of religious practice were not recognized as the supreme core of Judaism but instead were relativized by Ha'am's statement was bound to provoke a reaction in the traditional-minded camp.96 It was only the emergence of political Zionism under Theodor Herzl that created the possibility of bridging the deep gulf between the two sides, as it signalled a transition from ideological arguments to practical work in the form of political and diplomatic efforts.97 The Basel Programme was initially greeted with enthusiasm by traditional Jews in eastern Europe, raising reasonable hopes within the Zionist movement that it would be able to win over the masses of observant Jews in the east to its cause.
It very quickly became apparent, however, that the newly emerging Zionist movement was not prepared to refrain from cultural work, a fact that raised grave misgivings among traditional-minded Jews. To avoid a break, attempts was made before and after the Second Zionist Congress to establish a committee of rabbis alongside the Zionist Action Committee, but these were not successful. The rabbis of the Russian empire who had initially supported the organization gradually turned away from it, and became opponents of political Zionism. The rabbis who continued to support the movement even after the Second Zionist Congress were a minority and were caught in a dilemma. When at the Second Zionist Congress Herzl spoke in memory of the deceased rabbi Samuel Mohilever, stating that he "zu den strenggläubigen und starren Juden gehörte, … [und] dadurch, dass er sich vorbehaltlos uns anschloss, vollständig den Beweis erbracht [habe], den andere erst für nothwendig halten",98 this was more an attempt to reassure himself and to paper over the large cracks between political Zionism and the majority of traditional-minded Jews. Herzl's appeal at the same conference to "conquer the congregations" came as a fright to traditional Jews, and roused resistance against Zionist efforts among both Hasidim and Mitnaggedim (the opponents of Hasidism).99 Only one year later, at the Fourth Zionist Congress in 1900, Nahum Sokolow (1859–1936) taunted the traditional-minded opponents of Zionist: "Die Wunderrabbis wollen den Krieg mit dem Zionismus und so mögen sie ihn haben".100
The Foundation of the Mizrachi
But arguments were not only escalating between Zionists and their traditional-minded opponents. Even within the Zionist movement, the divide between secular and observant supporters was hardening. The argument revolved around the question whether the organization should become active in the cultural sphere. Traditional-minded Zionists, who predominantly came from eastern Europe, rejected this prospect because they feared that it would lead to the introduction of secular culture, which could be a fundamental threat to religious Judaism. One of the main motivations and justifications for their cooperation with the secular Zionists was undoubtedly the motive of Pikuach Nefesh, saving human life. The Zionist organization seemed, in the view of many traditional-minded Zionists, to offer the possibility of rescuing eastern European Jews, and particularly Russian Jews, and keeping them within the Jewish fold.101 However, if the organization was now going to engage in cultural activities, this represented an existential threat to observant eastern European Judaism in the form of modern, secular tendencies. But prominent representatives of the Zionist organization were anything but understanding and accommodating in their response to these concerns. Not only Sokolow, but also Chaim Weizmann, who subsequently became the first president of Israel, engaged in aggressive rhetoric at the Fourth Zionist Congress, and proposed the motion, which had already been raised by others, of "eine regelmässige culturelle Thätigkeit einzuleiten".102
While Sokolow and Weizmann called for "Kulturarbeit" at the Fourth Congress, the rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines (1839–1915) rejected this, arguing that the Jewish masses need food, not culture. At the Fifth Congress in late December 1901, the question of cultural activities flared up again, with Reines declaring to the delegates in exasperation: "Die Culturfrage ist ein Unglück für uns. Die Cultur wird alles zerschlagen. Unsere Gegend ist ganz orthodox. Die ist verloren durch die Cultur. Die Culturfragen dürfen im Baseler Programm nicht enthalten sein. Es ist ein Fehler begangen worden, der gut gemacht und beseitigt werden muss."103 After fierce debate on the question of whether the divisive issue of cultural work should be laid to rest once and for all through a resolution allowing it, the Fifth Congress finally declared "die culturelle Hebung, d.h. die Erziehung des jüdischen Volkes im nationalen Sinne, für eines der wesentlichsten Elemente des zionistischen Programmes und macht es allen Gesinnungsgenossen zur Pflicht, an ihr mitzuarbeiten".104
Herzl had made every effort to prevent a resolution of this question in order to avoid delivering a slap in the face to traditional-minded Jews. After his defeat, Herzl told Rabbi Reines just a few days or week later that he should found his own organization with those who shared his viewpoint. In early March 1902, Reines convened a gathering in Vilna with 72 delegates, 24 of whom were rabbis, to discuss the future path for Jews who were observant, but also Zionist-minded. This gathering agreed to found an association, the Merkaz Ruchani (Mizrachi), or "Religious Centre", to offer representation to traditional-minded Zionists who wanted to support a political Zionism without foreign elements – which, of course, referred to the cultural activities. The fundamental aim of the Mizrachi was to bridge the gulf between the Zionists on the one side and the observant, anti-Zionist Jews of eastern Europe on the other. That the foundation of the Mizrachi met a real need was evidenced by the large interest and support it attracted. About a quarter of the approximately 650 Zionist associations in the Russian empire supported this new religious Zionist organization.105 Within the Zionist organization, an agreement was reached to have two committees – a nationalist-progressive one, and a nationalist-traditional one – and these were supposed to reach agreement on the implementation of the resolution regarding culture. In reality, the problem remained unresolved.
For non-Zionist traditional-minded Jews, the foundation of the Mizrachi was doubtlessly a warning signal, as it raised the prospect that Zionism could in this way expand its support among Orthodox Jews, who up till then had avoided Herzl's movement. It is therefore not surprising that the Free Association for the Interests of Orthodox Judaism, which had been established in 1885 by the "father" of German neo-Orthodoxy and proponent of the secession principle106 Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888), published a resolution of its rabbinical commission shortly after the formation of the Mizrachi stating that the "Prinzipien des Misrachi, als eine Fraktion innerhalb des Zionismus" were "mit den Grundsätzen des überlieferten Judentums nicht zu vereinbaren".107
Only a year later, Raphael Breuer (1881–1932), who was a prominent representative of the Frankfurt variant of German neo-Orthodoxy – which had strong anti-Zionist leanings – and a grandson of Samson Raphael Hirsch, wrote the following about religious Zionism in his book Nationaljudenthum ein Wahnjudenthum! Ein Wort zur Verständigung: "So spielt die Religion auch im Zionismus die Rolle der alten Witzblatt-Schwiegermutter, die man achten, ja, liebenswürdig behandeln muß, die man aber in mißmuthigen Augenblicken am liebsten – todtschlagen möchte."108 To Hirsch's supporters, the Mizrachi was just a fig leaf of the Zionist movement intended to hide the secular foundations of Zionism in order to gain supporters for the movement among traditional-minded Jews. But to representatives of the Free Association, this was the greatest concern of all. The idea that through the Mizrachi Zionism could gain popularity among traditional Jews was almost guaranteed to prompt a strong defensive reaction among anti-Zionist Orthodox German Jews, whose centre was the secession congregation in Frankfurt.109 This was even more true after the Mizrachi chose Frankfurt as its regional centre for central and western Europe after its conference in Bratislava in August 1904. To anti-Zionist secessionist Orthodox Jews around the Frankfurt lawyer and religious philosopher Isaac Breuer (1883–1946), who was also a grandson of Hirsch, this was nothing less than an open provocation.110
The Foundation of Agudat Israel
For German secessionist Orthodox Jews, it now became important to overhaul and improve their organizational structure in order to effectively counter the danger of Zionism, particularly the Mizrachi. From 1908 at the latest, the Free Association for the Interests of Orthodox Judaism had the intention of founding a global anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewish organization under the leadership of its secretary Jacob Rosenheim (1870–1965). After drawn-out negotiations between traditional-minded leaders from the west and the east, which – similar to the Zionist organization – mainly revolved around the question of cultural work, Agudat Israel was established in late May 1912 in Kattowitz as a worldwide association of Torah-observant Jews. The foundation of Agudat Israel was primarily intended as a countermeasure against organized religious Zionism – the Mizrachi.111
According to Jacob Rosenheim, the immediate cause of the foundation of Agudat Israel was the "Frage des Austritts [des Mizrachi] aus dem Zionismus".112 At the Tenth Zionist Congress in Basel in 1911, Hermann Struck, as vice-chairman of the Mizrachi, had read out a letter from the head rabbi of Jaffa and of the Jewish colonies in Palestine, Abraham Jitzchak Hacohen Kook (Kuck) (1865–1935), in which the head rabbi criticized the lack of religious observance among the Jewish settlers living on the lands of the Jewish National Fund.113 There was also an accusation that the Shmita year had not been observed.114 This not only made the problem of the religiosity of Zionist-minded Jewish settlers, which had existed since the time of Hovevei Zion, a vexed issue again, but also, more generally, it raised again the question of whether the Zionist organization should engage in cultural work at all, particularly in Palestine. Shortly after the Congress, Struck was interviewed by the Warsaw Jewish newspaper Ha-Tsefira regarding the relationship of the Mizrachi to the Zionist movement. During this interview, he stated that "[j]eder Pfennig, den der Zionismus Institutionen, wie dem Jaffaer Gymnasium, in denen die Heiligtümer des jüdischen Volkes entweiht werden, zuwendet" would alienate "Tausende von Seelen"115 from the Mizrachi. Struck made it clear that it was very possible that the Mizrachi could break away from the Zionist movement because of the cultural question: "Kein Kompromiß! Entweder der Zionismus beschäftigt sich nicht mit Kultur, oder der Misrachi wird am Zionismus keinen Anteil haben!"
The possibility of the Mizrachi pulling out of the Zionist organization clearly accelerated the foundation of Agudat Israel because it raised fears in the non-Zionist Orthodox camp that such a move would make the Mizrachi more attractive to traditional-minded Jews. Initially, Agudat Israel, which was established as a global Orthodox organization, was limited to Germany because of the lack of national associations in eastern Europe.
However, as German troops advanced eastward during the First World War this changed. Along with the army corps, German rabbis also entered the former Congress Poland, either as army chaplains or as advisors to the occupation authorities. The two neo-Orthodox rabbis Pinchas Kohn (1867–1941) and Emanuel Carlebach (1874–1927) played an important role in this context. They came to Warsaw in early 1916 to advise the German civilian administration on Jewish matters. For Kohn and Carlebach, the biggest problem was that Poland did not have an Orthodox Jewish organization of its own, and traditional-minded Polish Jewish – who were a majority among Polish Jews – therefore had no voice and no political weight. This disadvantage was made all the more pronounced by the fact that the other currents within Judaism already had organizational structures. In view of this, the two German rabbis immediately set about uniting traditional Jews in Poland under an umbrella organization. In cooperation with the Ger Rebbe, Rabbi Arjeh Löb ben Abraham Mordechai Alter (1866–1948), the best known Hasidic leader in Poland, they founded the Agudat Ha-Ortodoksim (Federation of the Orthodox), an organization for Torah-observant Jews in Poland, as well as the Yiddish-language daily newspaper Dos Jiddische Vort.
In addition to introducing modern organizational principles and initiating community formation among traditional-minded Polish Jews, these measures had another aim. Based on the example of German Jews, the aim was to confessionalize Polish Orthodox Judaism, and thereby confine it solely to the religious sphere. However, what had worked and had not prompted resistance in German Orthodox Judaism at the time of Samson Raphael Hirsch was incredibly controversial in Poland in the second decade of the 20th century because of the emergence in the intervening period of political Zionism and other Jewish nationalist currents. Every attempt to introduce the traditional-minded Jewish masses to purely confessional viewpoints unavoidably prompted nationalist-minded Jews to mobilize and resist this in any way possible. In an attempt to negate any common ground with the Zionists, who they viewed as irreligious, the two rabbis even neglected the mitsvah (religious commandment) of settlement in Eretz Israel.
However, from the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 at the latest, the representatives of the Polish Agudat could no longer avoid acknowledging the Eretz Israel longing of the traditional-minded youth, otherwise they might lose the latter to other Jewish groupings, particularly the Mizrachi. The Agudat Ha-Ortodoksim and the organizations connected with it, which Kohn and Carlebach had been centrally involved in founding, were forced to adjust course – against the will of the two rabbis. This new course involved a stronger emphasis on the national character of Judaism, and, in particular, an intensification of Eretz Israel activities in the form of settlement of the Holy Land. In the inter-war period, the Polish Agudat Israel, as it was now known since the establishment of a parent organization in 1912, gradually drew closer to political Zionism, and from the second half of the 1930s it cooperated with the latter on all important questions.116
A Militant Anti-Zionist Response of the Ultra-Orthodox Camp: the Foundation of the Neturei Karta
While the Polish Agudat Israel had originally had a strong anti-Zionist thrust to it, this moderated considerably after the end of the First World War. A change of course of this kind in an Orthodox Jewish association, which expressed itself in particular in a strictly religious settlement project in Palestine, was, however, bound to provoke those ultra-Orthodox Jews in eastern Europe who for theological reasons strictly rejected any kind of compromise with Zionism.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira (1872–1937), the Munkacs Rebbe, one of the foremost representatives of Hungarian Hasidism, was not only one of the most radical anti-Zionists within ultra-Orthodox Judaism, but also an implacable opponent of Agudat Israel. To Shapira, supporters of Agudat Israel were nothing short of collaborators with the Zionists, or were even crypto-Zionists themselves, as they promoted the settlement of Jews in the Holy Land – albeit under strict religious principles – and were thus involved in establishing a Jewish state in contradiction of religious messianism. In his view, the Agudists had "mit ihrem Heuchlertum uns mehr Schaden zugefügt als alle Verruchten dieser Erde".117 In the view of Shapira and his followers, which was based on tradition, the Holy Land was only for prayer and Torah study. By contrast, Agudat Israel with its policy of promoting agricultural colonies of observant Jews in Eretz Israel by setting up a fund, the Keren Ha-yishuv, were causing funds to drain away from the yeshivas and other institutions of religious study, and to flow instead to the new moshavs118.119 Even more serious in the view of Shapira, though, was the way the Zionists and the Agudists broke the commandment of passivity, according to which it was not permitted to attempt to bring about the dawn of the messianic era by human action. Together with the future Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Jo'el Mosche Teitelbaum (1887–1979), who also came from Hungarian Hasidism, Shapira became one of the spiritual fathers of a radical anti-Zionist and militant Orthodox current within Judaism, which remains active to this day.
From 1920, Shapira was already in intensive correspondence with the Ger Rebbe. In this correspondence, he repeatedly emphasized his grave misgivings regarding Agudat Israel and he encouraged his colleague to withdraw his support from Agudat Israel. Three years later, having had no success in this, Shapira decided on another approach. In 1922, he convened a gathering of rabbis in Csap in Slovakia, consisting of different Rebbes of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovakian Hasidism. The main objective of the gathering was to discredit Agudat Israel and its rabbinical council.120 The outcome of the meeting was that any kind of connection with Agudat Israel was forbidden. One of the signatories of this statement, who had vehemently supported Shapira's arguments, was Rabbi Teitelbaum referred to above. He went on to construct a theoretical basis for Shapira's worldview, and to become the most prominent opponent of Zionism and the state of Israel within the traditional camp. The traditional fear among strictly observant Jews of wanting to bring about the "end of days" – the coming of the Messiah – early or by force and, in so doing, to undermine faith in divine redemption became a cornerstone of the ideology of Rabbi Teitelbaum. Viewed in this way, the Zionist project was an ongoing anti-messianic work of Satan. Thus, according to Shapira, Teitelbaum's ideological role model, the only Jews who should settle in Eretz Israel are those who – like the Zealots – were prepared to devote their time exclusively to the study of religious texts and to sacrifice themselves for their faith in God. However, anyone who settled in the Holy Land for profane reasons was to be considered a poacher who was defiling the ground. This applied equally to Zionists and to religious Jews engaged in agriculture, for example.121 Shapira accused them all of having lost their belief in divine redemption because they had become active themselves. In the eyes of Shapira, therefore, the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Israel did not apply generally, but related exclusively to the messianic era.
He interpreted Zionism as the spawn of Satan, as the most dangerous form of false messianism, which had no parallels in Jewish history. In numerous sermons and writings, Shapira cursed Zionism as a demonic power that represented a danger not only to all that was good and holy in Jewish life, but also to the whole cosmos.122 He thus interpreted the settlement of Eretz Israels by Zionists as an external manifestation of the demonic and destructive power that always adheres to the innermost sanctum. Consequently, every God-fearing Jew who settles in the Holy Land is entering a struggle. Through his immigration he is declaring war on evil, or, conversely, he is exposing himself to the influence of this force. But who would want to expose themselves to that danger?123 At the current time, only warriors, only "God-fearing zealots" would head off "um den gerechten Krieg um die Überreste von Gottes Vermächtnis im heiligen Berg Jerusalems zu führen". According to Shapira, it is "äußerst gefährlich, im [Heiligen] Land zu siedeln, da die neuen Einwanderer, die vorgeben, ins Land aufzusteigen [according to the Zionist terminology of the Alija or the Olim], tatsächlich in die Tiefen der Hölle hinabsteigen. … Es ist nun lebensgefährlich, im Land [Erets Israel] zu siedeln. Angesichts all derer, die das Land schänden, werden die gottesfürchtigen Juden gegen ihren Willen dazu gezwungen, schwere Kämpfe zu führen."124 In this way, Shapira raised his initial ideologically motivated rejection of the Zionist project to a new level: "The original ideological rejection of the Zionist enterprise was thus transformed into a religious-existential terror, focusing upon the land's awesome power."125
The gradual emergence of a militant anti-Zionist grouping within the strict traditionalist camp had a strong transnational component to it as sections of Hungarian and Slovak Hasidism entered into an alliance with splinter groups of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem. After the death in 1932 of Joseph Chaim Sonnenfeld (1849–1932), the rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem community organization Eda Haredit (God-fearing congregation), radical members pushed for Teitelbaum – who at that point was not the Satmar Rebbe – to be chosen as his successor. More moderate members rejected this, but they were only able to delay a fundamental conflict within the community. Only three years later, an extreme group under the leadership of the rabbis Amram Blau (1894–1974) and Aaron Katzenellenbogen broke off from Eda Haredit as a result of serious differences of opinion regarding the raising of children and self-segregation. This laid the foundation stone for the establishment of Neturei Karta (Guards of the City) in 1938, which remains one of the most active ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist associations up to the present.126 In 1945, Neturei Karta gained a majority in the community council of Eda Haredit, and thus gained control of the organization. Finally, eight years later the development came full circle with Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, becoming rabbi of the congregation. To avoid confusion, it should be added that Teitelbaum was effectively only a virtual rabbi of Eda Haredit because he continued to live with his supporters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However, the future direction of Neturei Karta and Eda Haredit in Jerusalem was dominated by his entire worldview, particularly his anti-Zionist ideology.
As with the rest of Judaism, two events played a pivotal role in the further development of Neturei Karta. These were the Holocaust, the industrialized extermination of six million European Jews, and the establishment of the state of Israel three years after the end of the war. The two events could not but affect the ideological basis of Neturei Karta and the ultra-Orthodox, strictly anti-Zionist Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora who were sympathetic towards it. While Zionists and many secular Jews interpreted the Holocaust and the foundation of a Jewish state as antithetical – the (attempted) extermination and resurrection (or redemption) of the Jewish people – these events were perceived by supporters of Neturei Karta as by no means opposites, but as one consistent process. For the Satmar Rebbe, the Shoah and the foundation of Israel were the last eruptions of the power of evil, which – based on the description in the Talmud of the birth pains of the Messiah – are to be viewed as the onset of redemption in the form of the messianic era.127 However, Teitelbaum went even further. In his main work Schrift über die drei Schwüre, he argued that the Holocaust was divine punishment for the failure to observe the Three Oaths, as contained in the Babylonian Talmud (Traktat, Ketubot, fol. 111a).128 According to this interpretation, in the Three Oaths God had called upon the Jews to remain passive in political questions during the period of exile, a commandment that the Zionists had broken in Teitelbaum's view. To this extent, Teitelbaum – who himself had been saved from the Holocaust by the efforts of the Hungarian Zionist Reszö Kasztner (1906–1957) in 1944 – held Zionists primarily responsible for the Shoah. Religious Zionists responded that the first two oaths – the ban on the mass migration of Jews to Eretz Israel and the ban on resistance against non-Jewish peoples – were no longer binding because the non-Jewish peoples had broken the oath that applied to them (the "Third Oath"), according to which they should not be excessively repressive toward the Jews. But Teitelbaum rejected this. In his view, this did not release the Jews from their duty to continue to observe the first two oaths.129 On the contrary, through their non-observance of the first two oaths, the Zionists had caused the non-Jewish peoples to break their obligations too, which had ultimately resulted in the Shoah. This collective sin had been followed by a collective punishment by God.
Against the backdrop of this fundamentally theological interpretation, it is hardly surprising that – in contrast to the majority of ultra-Orthodox and anti-Zionist Jews – the rabbinical leaders and supporters of Neturei Karta still rejected all compromise even after the foundation of the state of Israel. While Agudat Israel, for example, accepted the emergence of the state and even participated in the declaration of independence, and in return received certain guarantees regarding religious practice, right up to the present Neturei Karta fundamentally refuses to acknowledge the existence of Israel. At its core, therefore, the issue is not whether the state is secular in orientation, and thus passes laws that are questionable from a religious viewpoint, but rather the issue is that a Jewish state exists at all. To this extent, even attempts to found a "Torah state" would not satisfy Neturei Karta because for them this term contains an irreconcilable contradiction. Where the religious commandments of the Torah are fully respected there can be no Jewish state (founded by human hands). The so-called Israel, as Neturei Karta usually refers to it, is thus an act of perversion and blasphemy that is impossible to justify. The only logical reaction is therefore to fully separate oneself from this state, which through its very existence disregards and besmirches the foundations of the Jewish faith. Every law of that state, even if it refers to religious practice, is based on Zionism and is therefore by definition illegitimate. Even the use of personal identification or accepting state subsidies for one's own schools is forbidden as it would involve an implicit recognition of the state of Israel.
Up to the present day, supporters of the ideology of the Satmar Rebbe constitute a transnational militant anti-Zionism. Neturei Karta not only has synagogues in Jerusalem, but also in the USA and in Britain, while Satmar Hasidism has its own self-contained town in the US state of New York called Kiryas Joel, which now has a population of about 24,000. There are also small congregations of Munkacs Hasidism in the USA. In total, the supporters of Neturei Karta number in the tens of thousands worldwide, though it should be added that Neturei Karta has itself recently split. A group of about 100 families stopped recognizing the authority of the rabbinical court of Eda Haredit, and tried to join with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).130 This went so far that Neturei Karta was even represented by three negotiators on the side of the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid Peace Conference. When in September 2007 the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (*1956) delivered speeches at the United Nations and Columbia University in New York, representatives of Neturei Karta demonstrated in support of him, holding placards that read "Judaism condemns Zionist provocations against Iran" and "Read the Talmud: Jews in exile are forbidden to have their own state".131 Beforehand, the protesters of Neturei Karta had had a cordial meeting with Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly suggested publicly that the Holocaust did not happen. Particularly popular among supporters of the organization are the regular public burnings of Israeli flags.132