Hitler’s Empire (Penguin, New York, 2008) by Mark Mazower is a very good summary of largely secondary sources, going all the way back from the Prussian Colonization Commission to the Nazi extended version thereof – until the author’s arrival at “The Jewish Question: From Europe to the Middle East” on page 597. Offering a sort of an ironic conclusion, Mazower, who does not seem to read Hebrew, has invoked an array of secondary sources as well, some serious, but many anti- and post-Zionist. The author’s “hero” in these pages was Dr. Arthur Ruppin, (d. 1943), a Polish-German-Jewish sociologist and settlement operative in Ottoman and British Palestine, transformed to “Prussian” by Mazower, whose main motivation seems to have been acquired from the Prussian Colonization Commission, which was further used by the Zionists to bring about the “ethnic expulsion” of the Palestinians “after a war.” Which “war”? Maybe there was more than one war? Mazower ‘s war remained undisclosed all the way back to the Arab War of 1936-1939 against the Jews of Palestine and the principal Palestinian leader Hajj Amin el Husseini’s alliance with Hitler. While tracing the sources of other alliances of that kind in Europe, Mazower remains silent when it comes to the Palestinians and their role in closing the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration in 1939, when Hitler was still pushing Jews out. As a result of this, and Hajj Amin’s efforts to prevent any future rescue efforts, hundreds of thousands died. Palestinian refugees, whose leaders tried to destroy Israel upon its birth, are alive, if under dreadful conditions related – among other things-to their own leaders’ call upon them to leave until the Arab armies extinguished the “illegal Jewish quest for a national state on Arab soil.” The nationalist Palestinian Rashid Khalidi of Columbia, however, remains on his list of supporters in the acknowledgement.
This happens to be the case, when Mazower’s methodology – paying tribute to Eric Hobsbawm and other scholars in his acknowledgment – is a basically anti-nationalist or anti-nation state ideology and praxis, while trying to create continuums between pre-WWI nationalisms all the way to the post WWII period of decolonization. Yet Jewish nationalism was, and is, a fact, which was hardly the result of “Prussian” influence, even in the case of the half-assimilated Dr. Arthur Ruppin. Fighting nationalism and Zionism is one thing, and history-writing is something else. If Mazower could have read Ruppin’s diaries, published in Hebrew, he would have discovered a variety of influences over German Zionists and a pendulum of motives – starting with Martin Buber’s ultra-German nationalism (not mentioned by Mazower) to Buber’s ultra-Zionism (not mentioned as well) all the way to Buber’s criticism, under different circumstances, of the Zionist endeavor (mentioned without the relevant context).
For “Ostjuden” such as my own family, German-Jewish quandaries of that kind were simply foreign. When my grandfather, the former Chief Rabbi of Kiev and a Zionist, fled the Bolsheviks in 1920 and arrived in Berlin on his way to assume the Rabbinate of Tel-Aviv, he was not motivated by anything “Prussian.” His Jewish nationality (Hebrew was the spoken language in his home before it was officially revived) was natural to him, when he was asked by the German customs officers about it. Nor was he – a rather well-known figure in the pre-state society-directly associated with Ruppin’s settlement efforts in the country, but much more with the “Ostjuden” of the future Labor movement, because he perceived in them a genuine pioneering spirit related – quite naturally – to their national roots, which persisted in Eastern Europe, but were fading among German Jews, in his view. This, of course, was not always the case among Russian and Polish Jews, but making Ruppin the target of criticizing the Zionist settlement effort in Palestine, which had begun in the 1880s and was pursued by “Ostjuden” of social-democratic credo, is a gross miscalculation. Ruppin’s own motives in assuming his position as director of the Zionist Settlement Office in Ottoman Palestine at the beginning of the 20th Century were many, but he and his Labor colleagues such as David Ben-Gurion (Ruppin imposed on them the collective Kibbutz form in order to create a judicial body responsible for paying their debt to his office) were fully committed to operating within the Ottoman multi-national empire as a legal minority. How and when a Jewish nation state would emerge out of this experiment in making Jews “return” (put in quotation marks by Mazower) to their homeland as pioneers who returned indeed to physical work, to nature, assuming a number of collective ways of life, was a matter that would be decided – beyond Ruppin’s and BG’s sheer imagination, by the “Young Turks'” decision to join the Central Powers in 1914 while assuming a most radical Muslim posture that might have led the Jews of Palestine to the mass graves of the Armenians. They were saved thanks to… German interventions in Istanbul.
WWI and the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 produced a new situation because of the enormous weight, in British eyes, of millions of Jews in Eastern Europe, especially in the crumbling Russian Empire, many among whom adopted Zionism beforehand, and who should have been attracted to their own “national home” rather than to Bolshevism or immigration to the British Isles (partially closed to them in 1905 and later in 1919 due to their distinct and different traditions as described by the same Lord Balfour, PM in 1905). Lenin’s victory later on, the Jewish role in his party, Lenin’s own anti-Zionist stance, which seems to be shared by Eric Hobsbawm to this day, and other developments later on complicated this picture no end. But Mazower’s strategy and tactics in studying this chapter before WWI, in the inter-war years, during the Holocaust and after the Holocaust, using a few paragraphs pertaining to much more complex processes, are ideologically – not historically – grounded. They are possibly one more example of a post-Zionist syndrome in American academia, probably a continuum of previous anti-Zionist traditions in this country, which in Israel itself belong obviously to a very small, but loud minority, quoted by Mazower as best he could.