Emergency Zionism

Posted by dianamuir on June 05, 2012

If you think that European sympathy for Jews living in Displaced Persons camps in the wake of the most shocking genocide in human history led the United Nations to authorize the creation of the state of Israel, think again.

Margarete Myers Feinstein’s review of In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order by Gerald Daniel Cohen (Oxford 2011)   will persuade you that the Jewish State was created because  politicians in France, Britain and Belgium did not want to admit Jews as immigrants (they happily admitted large numbers of displaced persons who were Christian).  And because Poland and the USSR did not want their displaced Jewish citizens back.   The European  politicians who did not want to admit Jews to their countries were decent men.  They could see that an enormous injustice had been done.  Their solution was what Cohen calls “emergency Zionism”; Zionism as the solution to an emergency.  The emergency was that something had to be done with Europe’s displaced Jews, other than admitting large numbers of them to European countries.

The phrase “emergency Zionism” was used by  Peter Novick in his  book “The Holocaust in American Life” (p. 75)  to describe the post war support for the creation of a Jewish State  among  American Jews who had previously been opposed to Zionism, not because they had come to agree with Zionist ideas, but out of a feeling that something must be done to help the displaced Jews of Europe.

Novick’s use of the phrase has probably made people who recoil from Novick’s lack of sympathy towards Jewish victims of Nazism recoil from the phrase,  but it is time to rehabilitate it for the simple reason that it is useful.   It describes the attitude of a great many people who supported the creation of Israel.

It also describes the attitude of the men who signed the 1891 Blackstone Memorial, a petition that asked:

“Why not give Palestine back to them again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home, an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force.”

“Why shall not the powers which under the Treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia (Serbia) to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews? These provinces, as well as Romania, Montenegro, and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews?”

The emergency the signers ( John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, William McKinley, and other movers and shakers of the era) were responding to was a wave of government-backed pogroms in the Russian Empire in the 1880’s that persuaded many Jews and non-Jews of good will that Jews could not continue to live in Russia.  Yet, like the European statesmen after World War II, they did not want huge numbers of Jews coming to America as penniless immigrants.   The solution to the emergency was Zionism.

Emergency Zionism; a phrase that should come back into the conversation.

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