Commentary Magazine

Empire and Zionism

To the Editor:

Despite the valiant efforts of Victor Eppstein [ “Empire and Zionism: A Bankrupt Partnership” in the September COMMENTARY] to liberate his thinking from deadening stereotypes, he remains completely enmeshed in the coils of unrealistic, Marxist dialectics, which looks for the source of all evils in capitalism and imperialism and, correspondingly, for the cure of all ills in the advance of economic “progressivism.” This formula is utterly confounding when applied to the problem of Zionism.

To begin with, it is only superannuated economics that imagines a small industrial Palestine to be a commercial threat to British interests in the Middle East. Palestine could never be come a primary center of basic industries, of the type of England or even Belgium. As a secondary industrial center, Palestine might become an industrial outpost of the United Kingdom like Hong Kong, thereby contributing incalculably to the prosperity of England and the Middle East. For instance, Palestine could never economically produce automobiles, planes, ocean-going ships, tractors, and railroad supplies, but it could build up the machine shops necessary to service these commodities and thereby make their distribution in the Middle East feasible. Thus, from a purely economic viewpoint, a Jewish Palestinian dominion would well accord with British imperial interests.

Eppstein’s positive solution reveals a similar Marxist astigmatism. The nationalism of the rich effendis is evil, but the nationalism of the future, of the people—or rather the “masses”—is good. It is indeed amazing that so sober a journal as COMMENTARY should seriously countenance such an argument. Was there ever a “nationalist” movement that humbly consented to be absorbed and submerged by another national group? It is of the very essence of nationalism to insist on maintaining the dominance of its group, whether or not it is economically profitable. If the Jews in Palestine were content to remain a minority, they could indeed hope to make common cause with certain Arab elements. They would then be welcome in the Middle East as were the Marranos in the Turkey of the 16th century. But the whole purpose of Zionism is to escape from the specter of minority status. As a matter of fact, the Jews of Palestine are far more afraid of the rising intelligentsia and young movement among the Arabs than they are of the effete, indolent, and easygoing effendis.

It might conceivably be argued that the rising wave of Arab nationalism would sweep away the present boundaries between Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq, thereby making it possible for a Jewish Palestine to be a minor province in a great pan-Arab federal union. The answer to this argument is obvious: if the federal union of Arab states will be a strong union, then the Jews will again be reduced to minority status. If the Pan-Arab movement fails to attain its goal, then the educated nationalist Arabs of Palestine will fight the establishment of a Jewish state tooth and nail.

In any event, it is impossible to see how the situation in Palestine can be improved by giving currency to the principle that Zionism is incompatible with the interests of the British Empire. This conviction is the core of the ideology of the Irgunists, and, if widely disseminated, it is grist for the mills of those who would provoke an “Anglo-Jewish war.” Should that view prevail in Zionist propaganda and policy, then our enemies would become intransigent, while our allies would, even according to Mr. Eppstein, still have to be born. How then would Zionist prospects be bettered? No one will object to any plea for closer commercial contacts between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, but such pleas are wholly irrelevant to the contemporary situation.

Manifestly, it is still true today, as it was after the First World War, that only by an alliance with the British interests is it possible for Zionism to gain a foothold in Palestine. The Jewish Agency’s plan for the partition of Palestine would have had greater support in Britain were it not for the steady rise of anti-British sentiment in the Yishuv. This phenomenon may be understandable, but it is politically a disastrous liability, for it removes the original ground for British support of the Zionist dream. Because of the inherent logic of nationalism, progressive or otherwise, the Arabs can only oppose even the minimum demands of Zionism. Difficult as it may be to oppose the dominant trend of Jewish feeling today, it is the duty of the Anglo-Jewish press to avoid the glittering banalities of Marxism, and to assist the Jewish Agency to achieve a solution of the Palestinian puzzle by agreement with Great Britain. Only a third churbn can result from the present ominous drift of sentiment in the Yishuv and elsewhere toward the “glory” and the doom of another Masada.

Rabbi Jacob B. Agus
Dayton, Ohio

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