(Excerpts from an article published in the New York Times, June 27, 1921) 1,163 views
January 29, 2015
MHP Editor’s Preface: Ambassador Henry Morgenthau had been the President of the liberal Free Synagogue of New York for over a decade when he split with Rabbi Stephen Wise in 1919 over the issue of Zionism. This is an excerpt from an article he published in the journal World’s Work in 1921, as quoted in the New York Times. Morgenthau was also an officer of the B’nai B’rith Jewish Masonic Lodge, which helps explain his viewpoint and choice of terminology.
A Stupendous Fallacy
Zionism is the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history. I assert that it is wrong in principle and impossible of realization; that it is unsound in its economics, fantastical in its politics, and sterile in its spiritual ideals. Where it is not pathetically visionary, it is a cruel playing with the hopes of a people blindly seeking their way out of age-long miseries. These are bold and sweeping assertions, but I shall undertake to make them good.
The very fervor of my feeling for the oppressed of every race and every land, especially for the Jews, those of my own blood and faith, to whom I am bound by every tender tie, impels me to fight with all the greater force against this scheme, which my intelligence tells me can only lead them deeper into the mire of the past, while it professes to be leading them to the heights.
Zionism is a surrender, not a solution. It is a retrogression into the blackest error, and not progress toward the light. I will go further and say that it is a betrayal; it is an Eastern European proposal, fathered in this country by American Jews, which, if it were to succeed, would cost the Jews of America most [of all] that they have gained of liberty, equality and fraternity…
It may be politic for them for the moment to coddle the aspirations of a numerically negligible race like the Jews, but the notion that Great Britain would for one instant allow any form of government in Palestine, under any name whatever, that was not, in fact, an appanage of the British Crown, and subservient to the paramount interests of British world policy, is too fantastical for serious refutation…
Instead they [the Zionists] have capitalized this credulous faith, and are collecting funds in America and in Europe, ostensibly to finance what they call the establishment of their dream, although really, as I believe, to finance further propaganda for their unattainable ideal…
I claim to speak with knowledge on this subject. I have had occasion to know the Jew intimately in all the lands where he dwells in numbers and to study his problems on his own grounds, with the intensity and sympathy which were required by my duty to help pin each place to formulate the plans for his immediate assistance.
I speak as a Jew. I speak with fullest sympathy for the Jew everywhere. I have seen him in his poverty — despised, hated, spat upon, beaten, murdered. My blood boils with his at the thought of the indignities and outrages to which he is subjected. I, too, would find for him, for me, the way out of this morass of poverty, hatred, political inequality and social discrimination.
But, is Zionism that way? I assert emphatically that it is not. I deny it, not merely from an intellectual recoil from the fallacy of its reasoning, but from my very experience of life; as a seeker after religious truth, as a practical businessman, as an active participant in politics, as one who has had experience in international affairs, and as a Jew who has at heart the best interests of my co-religionists.
The Origins of Zionism
First, let me trace briefly the origins of Zionism.
Zionism is based upon a literal acceptance of the promises made to the Jews by their prophets in the Old Testament, that Zion should be restored to them, and that they should resume their once glorious place as a peculiar people, singled out by God for His especial favor, exercising dominion over their neighbors in His name, and enjoying all the freedom and blessings of a race under the unique protection of the Almighty.
Of course, the prophets meant these things symbolically, and were dealing only with the spiritual life. They did not mean earthly power, or materialistic blessings. But most Jews accepted them in the physical sense; and they fed upon this glowing dream of earthly grandeur as a relief from the sordid realities of the daily life which they were compelled to lead.
Zionism arose out of the miseries of the Jews. It was offered as a remedy, a release, a plan of action which would provide a road to happiness. This is the secret of its hold upon its adherents. The promises which it offers are so dazzling that Jews everywhere have rushed to embrace its faith, without stopping to examine them closely or to calculate whether they can be made good.
By those intellectual leaders of the Jewish thought who have embraced this fallacy of a panacea, Zionism is defined in more subtle, and in more plausibly rational terms. There are, first, those intellectual Jews who conceive of ‘Zion’ (that is Jerusalem restored to the Jews) as being a physical symbol of spiritual leadership, lifted up before their eyes and inspiring them all to a common purpose; as a demonstration of Hebraic civilization, a center from which should proceed instruction and exhortation to the Jews of all the world.
These leaders conceive the Jews to be, not merely a religious congregation, but to be, besides, a nation. They think that not merely should spiritual power be centralized in Zion, but temporal power as well. In their view the discrimination against Jews in other countries will greatly diminish once there is erected a Jewish State in Palestine…
The Economic Problem
Let us examine the pretensions of Zionism from three essential angles: Is it an economic fallacy? Is it a political fantasy? Is it a spiritual will-o-the-wisp?
First, its economic aspect. I assert positively that it is impossible. Zionists have been working for thirty years with fanatical zeal and backed by millions of money from philanthropic Jews of great wealth in France, England, Germany and America, and the total result of their operations, at the outbreak of the World War, was the movement of 10,000 Jews from other lands to the soil of Palestine. In the same period 1,500,000 Jews have migrated to America.
The truth is that Palestine cannot support a large population in prosperity. It has a lean and niggardly soil. It is a land of rocky hills, upon which for many centuries a hardy people have survived only with difficulty by cultivating a few patches of soil here and there with the olive, the fig, citrus fruits and the grape, or have barely sustained their flocks upon the sparse native vegetation.
The streams are few and small, entirely insufficient for the great irrigation systems that would be necessary for the general cultivation of the land. The underground sources of water can only be developed at a prodigious capital expense.
This is the condition of Palestine; not only must agriculture be pursued under the greatest possible handicaps of soil and water, but it is subject to the direct competition of far more favored lands in the very agricultural products for which it is distinctive.
A great industrial Palestine is equally unthinkable. It lacks the raw materials of coal and iron; it lacks the skill in technical processes and the experience in the arts; and, above all, it is not in the path of modern trade currents. What hope is there for Palestine, as an industrial nation, in competition with America, Great Britain, and Germany, with their prodigious resources, their highly organized factories, their great mass-production, and their superb means of transportation? The notion is preposterous.
[The author did not anticipate the advances in agriculture nor the shift from manufacturing to information technology. Perhaps he did not realize that the Zionists would be able to maintain huge economic, technical and military subsidies from America and Europe. —ed]
The Political Problem
What of its political foundations? Is Zionism a political fantasy? I assert most emphatically that it is. The present British Mandate over Palestine is a recongnition, by the great powers of the world, of the supreme political interest of Great Britain in that region. It was no mere accident that it was a British army which captured Jerusalem from the Turks in the late war. The life-and-death importance of the Suez Canal to the integrity of the British Empire has for more than half a century made the destiny of Palestine as well as of Egypt a vital concern of British statesmanship.
So long as the Turk was in control, the British had no cause to fear what that impotent and backward neighbor might do to interrupt the life current that flows through this jugular vein connecting India with the British Isles. But now that the Turk is in process of being dispossessed of sovereignty and the future disposition of his territories in doubt, British statesmen can hold but one opinion concerning either Egypt or Palestine, and this opinion is that, no matter what else may befall, British influence must be omnipotent on both sides of the Suez Canal…
[The great oilfields of the region have replaced the Suez Canal as the object of major strategic concern. —ed]
Remember that Palestine is as much the Holy Land of the Mohammedan as it is the Holy Land of the Jew or the Holy Land of the Christian. His shrines cluster there as thickly. They are to him as sacredly endeared. In 1914, I visited the famous caves of Machpelah, twenty miles from Jerusalem, and I shall never forget the mutterings of discontent that murmured in my ears, nor the threatening looks that confronted my eyes, from the lips and faces of the devout Mohammedans [Muslims] whom I there encountered.
For these authentic tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are as sacred to them, because they are saints of Islam, as they are to the most orthodox of my fellow Jews, whose direct ancestors they are, not only in the spiritual, but in the actual physical sense.
To these Mohammedans my presence at the tombs of my ancestors was as much a profanation of a Mohammedan holy place as if I had laid sacreligious hands upon the sacred relics in the mosque at Mecca. To imagine that the British Government will sanction a scheme for a political control of Palestine which would place in the hands of the Jews the physical guardianship of these shrines of Islam, is to imagine something very foreign to the practical political sense of the most politically practical race on earth. They know too well how deeply they would offend their myriad Mohammedan subjects to the east…
[In addition,] such an observer can entertain no illusions that the placing of these sacred shrines of Christian tradition in the hands of the Jews would be tolerated. The most enlightened Christians might endure it, but the great mass of Christian worshippers of Europe would rebel. A Jewish State in Palestine would inevitably arouse their passion. Instead of such a State adding new dignity and consideration to the position of the Jew the world over (as the Zionists claim it would do), I am convinced that it would concentrate, multiply and give new venom to the hatred which he already endures in Poland and Russia, the very lands in which most of the Jews now dwell, and where their oppressions are the worst…
The Spiritual Problem
My answer to the spiritual pretensions of Zionism is the positive answer that the solution has already been discovered — the way out has been found. The courageous Jew, the intellectually honest Jew, the Jew who has been willing to fight for his rights on the the spot where they have been infringed, has won his battle and has found all the glorious freedom which Zionism so impractically describes.
The brave Jews of England did not surrender their cause. They stayed in England; they fought on English soil for their rights as men. Their courage enlisted the admiration of the nobler spirits amongst the English, and it allied to them such Britons as Macaulay and George Bentinck, whose splendid eloquence and political acumen assisted in the repeal of the Jewish Disabilities in 1858. This epochal legislation gave the Jews every right enjoyed in Britain by the Christians. It made possible the splendid political career of
Beaconsfield [Benjamin Disraeli] (for many years Prime Minister of Great Britain) and the brilliant experience of Sir Rufus Isaacs (now Earl Reading), who has progressed through the highest political honors of the nation as Lord Chief Justice, Ambassador to America and Viceroy of India.
Do not forget that in this victorious struggle the Jew made no compromise whatever with his conscience. He did not abandon his racial, religious, or cultural heritage. The courageous and wise Jews of France and Italy have fought this same battle to this same victorious conclusion.
Need I elaborate the argument in its American setting? The facts lie upon the surface for the dullest eyes to see them. Nowhere in the world has so glorious an opportunity been offered to the Jew. Generous America has thrown wide the doors of opportunity to him. The Jew possesses no talents of the mind or spirit that cannot find here a free field for its most complete expression.
Does he seek political office? Jews in this country have been or are members of every Legislature, including the Senate of the United States; Ambassadors representing the person of the President at foreign courts; officers of the judiciary in every grade from Justice of the Peace to Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Does he seek freedom of conscience? He may freely choose his mode of worship, from the strictest of orthodox tabernacles to the most liberal of free synagogues.
Does he seek a field for business talent? The evidence of opportunity in this direction is so overwhelming that it need not here be wearyingly recapitulated.
Does he seek social position? Here indeed, his path is made more difficult. But the social barriers are not insurmountable… Leave the intolerant to associate with their own kind. The Jew who has raised himself to the highest level will have put himself beyond the reach of prejudice, and he will find himself welcomed in the highest Christian circles.
The enlightened Jews of America have found the true road to Zion. To them, Zion is no mere political mechanism, existing by the political sufferance of the greater powers.
To them, Zion is a region of the soul. To them, it is an inner light, set upon the hill of personal consciousness, inspiring them as individuals to fight, each for himself, the battle of life where he meets it; demanding in virtue for his own worth the respect of those about him; winning through to the dignity and position to which his native gifts and his self-developed character entitle him. This is the only true Zion. All other definitions of it are unreal…
We [Jews] in America refuse to set ourselves apart in a voluntary ghetto for the sake of old traditional observances. I for one will not forego this vision of the destiny of the Jews. I do not presume to say to my co-religionists of Europe that they shall accept my program. But neither do I intend to allow them to impose their program upon me. They may continue, if they will, a practice of our common faith which invites martyrdom and which makes the continuance of oppression a certainty. I have found a better way (and when I say ‘I’, it is to speak collectively as one of a great body of American Jews of like mind).
I resent the activities of Dr. Weizmann and his followers in this country. The Jews of France have found France to be their Zion. The Jews of England have found England to be their Zion. We Jews of America have found America to be our Zion. Therefore I refuse to allow myself to be called a Zionist. I am an American.