“Anti-Semitism has grown and continues to grow, and so do I.”
Theodore Herzl 
As a self-defined movement for the national ‘liberation’ of European Jews, Zionism had an anomalous relationship with its perennial Other, the Gentile nations, from whom it wanted the Jews to secede and become a distinct nation under a Jewish state.
The Zionists did not define Europe’s Gentile nations as the adversary they would have to oppose, and against whom they would struggle, to secure the rights of Jews to emerge as a distinct nation.
On the contrary, the Zionists would harness the strength of their perennial Other –” their adversary –” to gain their nationalist objective. Unlike nationalists who secede from a state or empire by drawing new borders, the Zionists did not demand any European territory; they planned to establish their Jewish state outside the borders of Europe.
In other words, the Zionists were offering to execute what any state facing secessionist demands would have embraced quite avidly: the Jewish ‘secessionists’ would sail away from Europe and establish their state in the Middle East, well-removed from Europe.
This was a novel approach to national liberation.
As a first step, the Zionists proposed to liberate Jews from European persecution by arranging for their exodus from Europe. This had always been the dream of European anti-Semites: to cleanse their landscape of Jewish presence. Over the past thousand years, different states in Europe had periodically attempted this voiding of Jews through forced conversions, pogroms, expulsions, and segregating Jews from Gentiles.
The Zionists were now proposing to purge Europe of its Jews on a scale never attempted before, and without the inconvenience of disturbing the peace. It was a contract that Europe’s anti-Semites would have difficulty turning down. Indeed, the Zionists fully expected the anti-Semites to give them whatever help they needed to effect the Jewish exodus.
The Zionists were counting on this help; it was indispensable for the completion of their project. The second step in the Zionist plan was to seize control of Palestine, open it up to Jewish colonization, and, when the Jewish colons had gained sufficient demographic mass in Palestine, they would convert it into a Jewish state, preferably without the natives. The Zionists could not undertake this step without the help of European powers.
This was a clever stratagem: quite original to Zionism.
The Zionists sought to convert an impossible nationalism –” with little prospect of ever achieving its goal inside Europe –” into a settler-colonial project. In addition, they would convert the Jews’ erstwhile adversaries into strategic partners. The Zionists expected to persuade at least one European power to play the part of ‘mother country’ to the Jewish colons in Palestine.
It appeared that the Zionists were going to outperform Moses of Jewish tradition. Moses too had chosen to liberate the Hebrews of ancient Egypt by marching them out of Egypt into Canaan, where they would establish their own state. There were important differences, however, between the two plans.
The Zionists did not seek divine help, but they would receive help from the anti-Semites. Moses had divine help but his plan was opposed by the Egyptians. The Egyptians could not have agreed to Moses’ long march because he was running away with their property –” their Hebrew slaves. In Europe, on the other hand, the Jews owned considerable property –” banks, bank accounts, factories, houses, lands –” that they would leave behind.
Clearly, the Zionists were offering the Europeans an attractive deal. Help us create a Jewish settler-state in Palestine: and we will solve your Jewish problem, free you from Jewish competition, free you of the Jewish presence, and you can have all their property we leave behind. This Jewish property was another gift the Zionists offered to Europe’s anti-Semites.
To Europe’s anti-Semites, the deal was irresistible. In fact, some of them would think they could kill two birds with the Zionist stone. They would get rid of the Jews, and renew the Crusades against the Muslims.
Of course, there were complications. States do not get into deals without considering all the costs. The great powers with an interest in the Middle East knew that backing the Zionist plan would mean war against the Ottomans. It would also mean perpetual war against the Muslims, since this was an egregious injustice against them and a deep violation of their historical space. That is why the great powers balked.
It was World War I that changed the calculus. When the Ottomans joined the war on the side of Germany, the Allied Powers –” Britain, France and Russia –” decided to dismantle the Ottoman empire. Even then, there was little interest in the Zionist plan –” despite intense Zionist lobbying.
Two factors turned the tide in 1917. In Britain, a new cabinet had taken office in December 1916 with at least five strongly pro-Zionist ministers, including the prime minister, David Lloyd George. In addition, the war had been going badly for the Allied Powers on the eastern and western fronts.
Now more than ever before, Zionist lobbying became a formidable force. The Zionists lobbied Britain, Germany, and the US for their support of Zionist goals. They made sure that their lobbying of one power was known to others: thus forcing them to compete for the support which the Zionists promised them in their war effort.
The Zionists promised to bring the US more fully into the war, to keep Russia in the war, and to mobilize the resources of world Jewry on the side of the power that would support their cause. It did not matter if the Zionists could deliver these promises: the European leaders were convinced they could.
At this point, all the pro-Zionist forces converged –” anti-Semitism, Christian Zionism, Crusader zeal, racism, national interests, and, above all, Zionist lobbying –” to place the power of the British empire behind the Zionists.
By late October 1917, after many months of maneuvers, the Zionists and the British finally agreed upon a statement that would signal British commitment to Zionism. On November 2 1917, this statement was delivered by Lord Balfour –” British foreign secretary –” in a letter to Lord Rothschild, a distinguished leader of Britain’s Jewish community.
This was the Balfour Declaration: this was the document that would formalize a new –” and for the most part, irreversible – partnership between Western Jews and the West, joined, pitted, in expanding wars against the Islamic world.
During the nineteenth century, when Britain and France competed to control the land bridge of the Levant, each sought to lure the Jews into their scheme to create a Jewish protectorate in Palestine. The Jews then quietly rejected these overtures: they could sense that a Jewish state in Palestine would be a trap.
Starting in 1897, when the European powers had lost interest in this colonial scheme, it was the Zionists who revived it. Their hubris was so great, they were willing to ignore the hazards of their plan. No doubt, the Zionists did overcome these hazards: and their successes have been stunning.
But Zionist successes have not helped to establish a political equilibrium in the Middle East. On the contrary, they have been deeply destabilizing. Zionist victories over existing foes produce new ones, harder to defeat than those they replace.
Despite its military superiority, Israel feels paranoid. It seeks its security in the total obliteration of its foes. It works round-the-clock to strangulate the Palestinians, it has repeatedly unleashed destruction against the Lebanese, it was the leading advocate of the war against Iraq. And now it threatens to unleash a nuclear holocaust against Iran.
Most Zionists now believe that Israel is just another war away from forging an absolute, irreversible ‘right to exist’ –” a code for the right to exercise perpetual hegemony over the Middle East. Will the world grant Israel this ‘right’ if this last war turns Iran into a nuclear wasteland? Will history forget or forgive this crime?
Footnotes: David Hirst, The gun and the olive branch: The roots of violence in the Middle East (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003): 286.